MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Two hours before Clifton Trotter and Melvin Harmon headed to Columbia, South Carolina, they got a crash course on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of operating the Red Cross emergency relief vehicle.
But the real lesson came inside the Central Alabama American Red Cross compound in Montgomery.
This is where they heard from Martha Poole Simmons, a veteran of several deployments in natural disaster zones across the country. Simmons painted a picture of what compassion looks like by relaying a personal story; April 2006 in Tennessee. A man had just buried his entire family after they were killed by a tornado.
“As I got out of that truck, I went up to him and I wasn’t sure what to say. I just had a little prayer to the Lord to put words in my mouth. I just went up to him and I put my arm around him and said ‘I am so sorry," Simmons said.
Simmons is a long time volunteer with the Red Cross.
Fortified by her story, Trotter, for one, won’t have to dig deep for empathy. He’s a war veteran who did five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the final tour, he was shot in the throat by a sniper.
It goes without saying. Trotter understands pain, fear, and recovery. Fifteen surgeries later, they’re life lessons of a man who’s just 39-years old.
“I wouldn’t want my family to go through something like this," said the former Marine.
Harmon saw combat in Vietnam and Korea and was temporarily blind from a flare accident.
“I am going to help those that need help," he said. Both he and Trotter have no idea how long they’ll be gone, but they say they’re okay with that considering their respective military experiences and what they saw on the front lines of war.
’"We’re off to see the wizard," said Harmon, referring to “The Wizard of Oz”, as he buckled his seat belt.
The two headed off to the Carolinas, to another staging area closer to where Hurricane Dorian may strike. If it does, they’ll be there to ease someone’s suffering with food, water and a healthy dose of compassion.