Wasche aids Hurricane relief


Thea Wasche, 50th Force Support Squadron deputy commander and American Red Cross Disaster Relief program volunteer, and Kevin Blankenstein, Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer, gather for a photo inside a mega shelter in Houston, Texas, Sept. 20, 2017. Wasche and Blankenstein assisted those who were devastated by Hurricane Harvey during their deployment with the Red Cross. (Courtesy photo)


American Red Cross workers unload food outside a facility in Houston, Texas, Sept. 20, 2017. Thea Wasche, 50th Force Support Squadron deputy commander, is a volunteer with the Red Cross Disaster Relief program, helping coordinate the procurement of these supplies and its distribution to those in need. (Courtesy photo)


Hurricane season is underway this year, the U.S. has seen devastation from Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Nate and Harvey, each causing wide-spread destruction in its path.

The roots of American lives lifted from their foundation, as thousands of families have been affected, many losing their homes, cars and loved ones.

To ease the loss and devastation, many people remotely donated money, foods and other goods. Thea Wasche, 50th Force Support Squadron deputy commander, went further, deploying directly to the areas impacted under Harvey as an American Red Cross’ Disaster Relief volunteer.

Wasche worked as a shelter supervisor for shelters stood up in Harvey's wake. Providing logistics support and led Red Cross workers in aiding those affected by the storm.

"The first shelter I set up was north of Galveston, where a lot of flooding occurred in the bay area," she said. "It was a community shelter that could support about 45 people. It only stayed open one week to take care of the imminent needs of the community. That includes food and logistics support, healthcare services, case workers and more."

Days later, Wasche deployed to the area hit hardest by Harvey - southwest Houston.

The Category 4 storm caused extensive damage upon landfall; however, most of the flooding in Houston was caused by subsequent heavy rains. Texas had mandatory evacuations for 429,700 residents, and voluntary evacuations for 234,120 more. Texas Governor Greg Abbot declared a “State of Disaster” in 58 counties due to Harvey’s impact.

At the time Wasche arrived, the mass flooding that had engulfed many parts of the city in more than 50 feet of water, had mostly receded revealing the scars the storm left behind.

"The damage was more than I thought it would be, and it was two and a half weeks into the disaster when I arrived," she said. "It was like a war zone. The streets were just devastated, just rubble - mile after mile."

She spent most of her days working in mobile transports, giving food and provisions to residents.

Wasche then established and supervised a larger shelter in the city's epicenter, coordinating Red Cross services throughout the region.

"Houston is the fifth largest city in the U.S., so you can imagine the thousands of people we would get," she said.

There she faced the same challenges of logistics and resource management, but on a much larger scale. The subsequent impacts of Irma and Maria thinned out Red Cross resources, which meant longer shifts, less supplies and fewer volunteers to serve the influx of people.

"They (the Red Cross) were pulling staff and resources," Wasche said. "You had to do what you could with the resources available."

With her small team, she was responsible for assisting thousands of people, many of whom were upset, frightened and angry at their misfortune.

"People were appreciative of what we are doing, but for some it was not fast enough," she said. "A lot of people just wanted to leave the area, to start over again.”

Despite the challenges, Wasche’s subordinates remarked on her ability to provide cordial public outreach and personal touch.

"She was really hardworking," said Kevin Blankenstein, a Tennessee native deployed as a volunteer for the first time with the program. "She was really kind, caring and passionate about what she did, always running around making food. She would take the extra time to run out and get supplies to make shelter inhabitants breakfast. She did a lot for both the shelter inhabitants and the volunteers.”

Her leadership helped him and his father adjust to their first Red Cross deployment.

"She took us under her wing," Blankenstein said. "We walked in there knowing nothing at all. She was able to focus in on my dad and I's strength and really place us where we would be best to serve. When we moved to the larger shelter (in Houston), there were only three volunteers for 500 people. She managed things really well and was able to secure more volunteers in no time."

Wasche estimates her team's services helped upwards of 1500 people directly, and potentially many others. While two weeks felt more like six months, Wasche said it was a time well-spent helping those in need.

"I love doing what I do because I get to give back to the community," she said. "Making them feel comfortable through little things, like just giving them a meal, or socks, and if they asked questions, figuring out how to get to the 'yes.’”

The damage caused by Harvey still remains, and coupled with other hurricanes’ devastations this season, volunteers are always needed.

Wasche encourages Airmen to seek volunteer opportunities to help those in need, and looks forward to volunteering again.

“I would recommend volunteering anytime for anybody,” she said. “It takes a lot of education and training, but it’s a good opportunity to learn.”