Army veteran and DAV life member John Clark stands inside the ground-level garage of his Conway, S.C., home in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Shortly after this photo was taken, local authorities had to release water from nearby dams, which caused water levels in the area to rise an additional 4 to 6 feet.

Serving veterans in the wake of natural disasters

For those living in disaster-prone areas, the unfortunate reality is that no amount of warning or preparation can match the destructive power of Mother Nature. That’s why DAV’s Disaster Relief Program stands prepared to aid veterans who find themselves in harm’s way.

National service officers like Bryan Kerouac and Russell Ste. Marie lie at the heart of the program. The duo spent weeks setting up aid locations throughout South Carolina to provide relief to veterans and their families in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

One of the first places the team visited while crisscrossing the state was Conway, a town of roughly 25,000 that sits about 15 miles inland from Myrtle Beach, along the Waccamaw River. With the town already 3 to 4 feet under water when Kerouac and Ste. Marie arrived, and an additional 4 to 6 feet expected within 72 hours, the two knew they had to act quickly to serve as many veterans and their families as possible.

“We originally were going to go to a community center a little further toward the coast, but once we realized the flooding was going to keep folks from accessing that location, we decided we needed to go somewhere else. And that’s when the local DAV chapters dug into their networks,” Kerouac explained.

In a matter of hours—as Kerouac and Ste. Marie were making the 2.5-hour drive from their DAV office in Columbia to Conway—members of Chapter 57 in Conway and Chapter 30 in Myrtle Beach secured a new location at the Horry County Veterans Affairs Office and began reaching out to affected veterans.

Among them was John Clark, an Army veteran who had already lost the ground floor of his home to flood damage and stood to lose the entire second floor as waters were expected to continue rising. But when he showed up to the aid location, that was the least of his concerns.

National Service Officers Bryan Kerouac (right), assistant supervisor of the DAV office in Columbia, S.C., and Russell Ste. Marie (center), assist veterans in need at the Horry County Veterans Affairs Office in Conway, S.C. Kerouac and Ste. Marie assisted roughly 100 veterans at the location before heading to their next location. DAV distributed more than $1.2 million in disaster relief assistance to more than 3,600 recipients nationwide in 2018, with Hurricane Florence relief efforts accounting for more than $687,000 of those distributions.

“He said nothing to me about his property,” Kerouac said. “He just wanted to know what was going on with other vets and how he could help, because that’s just the kind of guy John is.”

It was only after a local chapter member alerted Kerouac to Clark’s situation—and with some convincing from Kerouac—that Clark, 51, accepted financial assistance from DAV.
“These neighborhoods are catastrophically flooded, and some of these folks have been without power for days,” Kerouac said. “All of these veterans need some help in one way or another.”

“It’s going to be two or three months of us trying to get back into our homes,” Clark said. “[Assistance from DAV] will allow me to buy some food and possibly help me with relocating while we repair the damages.

“What DAV has done for me today is a tremendous help, and I thank God for DAV.”

Kerouac and Ste. Marie assisted roughly 100 veterans during their relief efforts in Conway before packing up and heading to their next location the following day—a schedule they maintained for weeks, helping hundreds of veterans and their families throughout the state.

In total, DAV distributed more than $1.2 million in disaster relief assistance to more than 3,600 recipients nationwide in 2018, with Hurricane Florence relief efforts throughout the Carolinas accounting for more than $687,000 of those distributions.

“With the organization having a budget of $450,000 for disaster relief in 2018, the efforts surrounding Hurricane Florence show that DAV will go to whatever lengths necessary to support our nation’s heroes,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess.

“If there’s a need, whether it’s financial or any other assistance, we try to meet that need,” Kerouac explained. “Keeping the promise to those men and women who served—that’s what this is about.

“It’s just a small part of what DAV does,” he added. “We’re here to take care of those men and women who served.”