Wing family closes ranks for striken members

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christian Michael
  • 908th Airlift Wing
When tragedy strikes, knowing the first step to recovery can be difficult, and rebuilding a life even more so. Two Airmen from the 908th Airlift Wing recently experienced disaster firsthand and found not only the pains of loss, but the true value of Reserve family as fellow members stepped up to help them through.


The clock blinked 3:50 a.m. when Senior Airman Eva Sisson woke up. Something felt wrong, but she couldn't place it. She had a test flight that morning at loadmaster technical school at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ala., and it was two hours before her alarm was supposed to go off, so she laid back down. Ten minutes later, the phone rang and her world changed.

"It's all gone. The house is gone," said her husband back in Birmingham. "We're standing out here in the rain. A tornado came. It's all gone."
Just minutes before, he woke to the sound of glass breaking in his bedroom from a tornado bearing down on their home. Bolting from his bed, he ran to his 2-year-old son's room and grabbed him, before squatting in a small closet with the child in a firm bear hug.

Now standing outside in their pajamas, he and their son had just escaped death, and now looked into the darkness at what remained of their family home. He told his wife later that as the wind attempted to suck the child from his arms, it was just the "sound of destruction."

Sisson panicked, and immediately called her mother and family about arranging travel home, when her mother told her, "You'll just be another mouth to feed. Stay there and finish."

Nearing the end of loadmaster school, Sisson was a new addition to the 357th Airlift Squadron. She had transferred from active duty and inprocessed only five days with the unit before leaving for school. When word came to the 908th, help poured out, members driving to Birmingham to bring supplies, called daily and used lunch breaks to buy things for her son.

"As soon as word got out that her house got destroyed, we immediately set out to help her," said Senior Master Sgt. James Rickels, 357th AS loadmaster scheduler and the first to hear from Sisson after the tornado. "I don't know if there was any one person to help her out. Somebody in the squadron needed help, and we got to work."

Sisson not only received help from her home unit, but as she neared her final checkride, support came in from her school and fellow classmates, pushing through difficult weather on the day of her test. Not only did her instructors press to get the flight operational for her, alone, but all five other crews showed up to show their support.

"This whole experience has renewed my faith in humanity," said Sisson. "The support from my unit and this wing has been amazing. I felt like everybody stood up to help take care of my family. They put clothes on my son's back, food in his mouth and shoes on his feet. How do you thank someone for that?"

In the end, she tried anyway.

"My military family really came through for us," she said. "I would thank you all from the bottom of my heart, but for all of y'all, there is no bottom!"


Technical Sergeant Todd Benge was at his civilian job on the Columbus AFB, Miss., flightline, when his wife, Erinn, was home with their boys eating dinner. When she thought she heard heavy winds outside, she checked the carport and was shocked to find it engulfed in flames.

Grabbing her boys and the three family pets, they ran outside just in time to watch the roof collapse.

Four days before Christmas, Benge, an aircraft metals technologist with the 908th Maintenance Squadron, suddenly had to find a place for his entire family to stay before picking up the pieces of their lives.

"I was really shaken up," said his wife, Erinn, "but really, the only thing at the moment was my children were safe. After the fact, it was: Where do we go from here?"

The fire was ruled as an electrical fire due to faulty wiring. After the fire was put out, their first goal was to recover their photographs and their firebox with their important information.

"We were able to salvage pictures, because they were in a closet by the front door ... but that was about it," said Erinn. "At that point, it was just: where do we go? And we're currently staying with my in-laws. Now we're searching for a house."

When Benge came in for the unit training assembly the following month, help poured in. Members from Benge's unit stayed in constant contact and began sending monetary donations - easier for the distance between here and his home in Columbus, Miss.

"It kind of confirms that we're not alone," said Erin. "At times it's been a little overwhelming, and wonderful, to know that as big as the 908th is, that they can come together when tragedy hits like this. It's just wonderful."

The Benges are currently looking for a new house to move into by October, just in time to welcome the newest addition to their family.


"It's important to remember that this wing is a family," said 908th Command Chief Master Sgt. Owen Duke. "Even though we may only see each other once a month, and sometimes we don't see Airmen from different squadrons, our family looks after itself."

"This is absolutely critical in our business, because you never know from one minute to the next whether you're going to be here at Maxwell for a UTA or downrange," he said. "We must support each other and our immediate family."

"Family Day is to celebrate the families and sacrifices that they make for the Airmen as we deploy in and out to different locations, and the stresses it places on relationships. Two members lost everything and the 908th family wrapped (its arms) around them.

"It's the families that make this country great, not us."