By Andy Ostmeyer
Globe Metro Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Another of those milestones on the road to recovery passed quietly this month, when the Missouri National Guard pulled the last soldier it still had working in the area as a result of the 2011 tornado.
Guardsmen became involved in Joplin and Duquesne the night of May 22, 2011, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sloan, noting that the guard’s own armory in Joplin sustained roof damage that night. At its peak, the guard had 377 of its members helping out in Joplin and Duquesne.
Initially, guardsmen worked search and rescue, directed traffic and set up a mobile medical unit. Sloan said that as those tasks were completed, the guard’s role changed.
“Really, in the last year or more, it has been about the Disaster Recovery Jobs Program,” he said.
Jasen Jones, head of the Workforce Investment Board of Southwest Missouri, said a $19 million federal grant helped put 1,400 people to work on cleanup crews in Joplin and Duquesne. Missouri National Guardsmen were chosen to supervise the work.
“The guard had a big role in the initial response,” Jones said. “When it came time for this program to roll out, the guard was certainly on the governor’s mind.”
Jones noted that the Workforce Investment Board had no experience in handling some of the situations that arose because of the storm, including what to with drugs and guns that were found in the rubble, as well as human remains.
“Our organization encountered things it had not dealt with before,” he said.
Guardsmen had leadership experience, training on handling heavy equipment and even knew how to set up portable toilets for work crews, he said.
“They really helped us in a number of different ways,” Jones said.
The last of those guardsmen-led crews continued working in Duquesne through December, with the last lone guardsman staying into January to wrap up the program.
Duquesne Mayor Denny White said he was amazed at the work guardsmen completed with their crews.
“Without them and the (Workforce Investment Board) personnel, we wouldn’t have rebuilt Duquesne the way we have,” he said. “They were the cement in the mix. ... They kept everything running. ... We are very grateful for them out in Duquesne. As mayor, I thought, ‘Boy, I don’t know what we would do without these people.’”
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe.
Elsewhere in Missouri
Besides working in Joplin and Duquesne after the tornado, the Missouri National Guard in 2011 also activated members to respond to flooding in the Missouri Bootheel and later in Northwest Missouri.