10:19 AM

Winning Hand

'Ace of Spades' Squadron Saves Disabled Victim of Texas Tornadoes

By Sheila Pursglove
Contributing Writer

A disabled East Texas man owes his successful rescue — and possibly his life — to the actions of several members of the Gregg County Composite Squadron, aka The “Ace of Spades” Squadron.

The man, who suffers from severe ambulatory problems, was found by a squadron foot patrol four days after

the horrific tornadoes that hit East Texas late the afternoon of April 29. Nine twisters passed through a narrow region and continued for several miles, leaving in their wake four dead, dozens hospitalized and millions of dollars in damage.

As relief efforts got underway, the American Red Cross put out a call for Civil Air Patrol to provide ground and air sorties for damage assessment. The Longview-based Gregg County squadron got a call early Tuesday, and Ground Team Member 3- and Urban Direction Finding-qualified cadets and senior members gathered at the district Red Cross office in Tyler.

“We were given damage assessment training by the Red Cross and given specific areas of the five counties involved,” said 2nd Lt. Aubrey D. Applewhite, squadron deputy commander. “The cadets were very excited, since this was their first actual call-out during a disaster."

Teaming with a squadron from Denton, the squadron’s four patrols spent six hours searching in vehicles and on foot. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, but the squadron members faced other issues.

“Mud, debris and wild animals hindered some search teams from entering areas,” Applewhite said.

The conventional ground search methods paid off. After pounding the ground for hours to find survivors, one of the squadron foot patrols discovered the disabled man in his mobile home in the Emory area, in the northeastern part of the Lone Star State.

The rescue was sheer serendipity. As the patrol made its way along a remote dirt road, with trees down everywhere, Applewhite happened to spot a structure deep in the woods.

When the team went to check it out, they discovered a mobile home.

The disabled resident had gone four days without electricity and was using propane to cook food from his freezer. With no phone service and his pickup stuck firmly in the mud, he was stranded and unable to go for help.

The CAP team managed to free the truck, and the man was able to go to a shelter.

Despite being footsore and weary from the long day, the cadets and senior members all headed directly to the squadron’s regular weekly meeting, without a break.

“It was a great learning achievement for our cadets,” Applewhite said. “They showed tremendous diligence during this time — hence our motto, Semper Vigilans!”

Cadet Airman 1st Class Piper Loy was one of those who took part in the rescue. “It was very rewarding to finally be able to put my training into actual real-world experience, and I’m gratified I and the other cadets were able to be of service to our local area,” she said. “It was an honor to have been chosen to help.”

Mother Nature was not yet done with East Texas; another severe storm with rotation, large hail and high straight winds hit the area the following day, grounding all the CAP teams.

“Luckily there was no further major damage or injuries, and it didn’t spawn any more tornadoes,” Applewhite said.