Hurricane Matthew battered thousands of buildings and trees and caused widespread power outages and flooding throughout the Lowcountry in the early morning hours of Oct. 8. But the Category 2 storm didn’t dampen the resolve of residents determined to help their neighbors – and complete strangers – who were suffering. Read here about some of these unsung heroes.
The line of cars — hundreds of them, stretching a couple miles along U.S. 278 — reminded him of Iraq.
Jeff Fulgham deployed there in 2005 with a S.C. Army National Guard detachment from Saluda, and he learned to pay attention to the vibe of a crowd waiting on gasoline, food or water — survival essentials.
He learned tempers could flare.
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Now, the day after Hurricane Matthew cleared Beaufort County, Fulgham — a Bluffton native, staff sergeant and combat engineer with the Guard’s 1221st Route Clearance Company out of Graniteville — headed toward his town on a reconnaissance mission.
Stranded motorists along the highway, stopped at the county line by highway patrolmen and sheriff’s deputies, looked like refugees, loitering with no place to go. Occasionally they would try to squeeze in behind the military convoy as it traveled east in the westbound lanes, and Fulgham would halt the convoy and send the motorists back.
As a historian and author in the civilian world, he took in the scene, though he could not stop to record it.
His four-vehicle, eight-man team chainsawed its way into the county. Debris removal was a priority for the Guardsmen, whose overseas missions typically involved clearing routes of improvised explosive devices — IEDs.
They worked through the morning into the evening and spent that night at the Guard armory in Walterboro before being sent to Edisto Island. Fulgham never checked on his own home in Bluffton — that wasn’t part of the mission — and he worried about his wife and step-daughter, who would soon have to vacate their vacation on North Carolina’s Outer Banks as Matthew lumbered north.
On Edisto, he and his men cleared three feet of sand from Palmetto Boulevard. He escorted a woman, native to the island, to her home. And the Guardsmen provided security against would-be looters.
He’d been on the job 12 days Oct. 16 when a general came to inspect the Guardsmen’s work.
He wondered if the younger soldiers grasped the significance of the general’s visit, of the hurricane.
Fulgham, who also had deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, thought back to last October, when he’d been posted in Columbia during the historic flooding, tasked with plugging holes in the city’s canal.
He reminded his younger soldiers of that action.
How even though some of them hadn’t seen combat, they’d still had a busy year.