All hands on deck

Published 11:52 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

Raychelle Jensen spent her Friday morning pulling up electrical wire and working on a shed in Burnett’s Mill.

It wasn’t her shed, or her property.

In fact, Jensen is from Colorado – she has no real tie to Suffolk.

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She is an electrician’s mate in the Navy stationed with the USS Carl Vinson, and was one of about 30 shipmates who spent their morning helping one of their own.

“It’s just like a family, like having a family,” Jensen said. “I know they would do the same if something happened to me.”

Brian Miless was half a world away when a tornado tore through his home in Burnett’s Mill on April 28.

Miless was in Brazilian waters aboard the USS George Washington, en route to Japan, when he got an e-mail from his mother-in-law.

“She said ‘We’ve been hit by a tornado, but everyone’s OK,’” Miless recalled. “And, I was left thinking ‘What does OK mean?’”

He got on the Internet, checking various Web sites for pictures, information or anything that would give him a clue as to how his family was doing.

What he found was his dining room table.

While perusing the tornado news coverage, Miless caught a picture of firefighters searching through wreckage – wreckage that included his family’s dining room table.

“You couldn’t tell it was a house,” he said. “It was just a foundation, just completely filled with debris.”

Miless’ home was gone — the only thing standing was the master bedroom’s closet that his wife, Charity, and two children took shelter in during the storm.

Three days later, the Navy allowed Miless to fly home.

He began clearing debris on his own, and then help arrived.

Angela Koncz of Welcome Home CDC had a team of volunteers working the neighborhood to help clear property, and they offered Miless some extra hands.

“I took them up on their offer,” Miless said.

Little did they know, Koncz would help much more in the months to follow.

Following the initial cleanup, Miless found out his insurance policy would not cover a lot of costs to rebuild his home. Plus, he and his family were still due to move in Japan.

Selling a house without a roof, walls or rooms is just not possible.

Thankfully, Miless’ command understood.

They transferred Miless to the USS George H.W. Bush, which was being repaired at the Newport News Shipyard and was not due to leave for sea anytime soon.

Then, hearing about the family’s situation, Koncz and Welcome Home stepped in again — this time orchestrating volunteer teams, construction plans and a timeline to get the Milesses back home in Suffolk.

While helping with the tornado relief, Koncz already had been contacted by a number of people asking how they could help. Among those volunteering was Lt. Billy Walker.

Walker is assigned to the Carl Vinson.

The Vinson and the George Bush are docked together in the Newport News Shipyard.

In April, Walker brought some of his shipmates with him for the initial cleanup and contacted Koncz to see if there was anything else they could do.

“He called and asked if I needed anything: ‘When can I bring some people back to help?’” Koncz recalled.

Koncz and Walker set up a time for the group of volunteers — including Jensen — to come and help rebuild Miless’s home.

“The Navy, as a whole, is a close knit community,” Miless said of what it was like to have his comrades help him rebuild. “When I get the Navy guys out here like this, it makes me feel good and welcomed, but I’m not surprised.”

Koncz estimates that the house will be back up and ready Nov. 24, just in time for the holidays.

“That way they have Thanksgiving, and we all have something to be thankful for,” she said.

“That’d be great,” Miless said. “That would be fantastic. If she says she can do that, I’m going to let her.”