William Fleming Jr., CEO of Marlboro Electric Cooperative, offers his thanks to some of the 41 S.C. National Guard troops who helped clear the way for the co-op to restore power after Hurricane Matthew.
Photo by Matt Haynie, Marlboro Electric Cooperative
As I write this, barely a week after Hurricane Matthew swept through South Carolina, upturning the lives of hundreds of thousands of folks, co-op repair efforts are nearing completion, and the stories coming out of the storm are taking on a new, optimistic tone. Allow me to share one such story from my friend and colleague, William Fleming Jr., CEO of Marlboro Electric Cooperative. It’s a tale of gratitude that seems especially fitting as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.
The heroes in this story include the men and women of the S.C. National Guard, and they exemplify the best “can do” spirit of all the public servants who performed so admirably in the face of the devastating storm.
When the hurricane made landfall near McClellanville at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, the eyewall soon collapsed, but intense bands of wind and rain raked inland across the Pee Dee, smashing trees into power lines and businesses, flooding substations and homes, and washing out roads and bridges.
At Marlboro Electric, where 99 percent of members lost power, the co-op was fully prepared for the storm. It had line crews, trucks, poles and transformers ready to roll, with more crews on the way from across South Carolina and the Southeast to help. But the road to recovery was— quite literally—blocked by fallen trees and floodwaters.
Through the Marlboro County Emergency Operations Center, the call went out, and help soon arrived driving camouflaged Humvees, three-axle LMTV trucks full of chainsaws, and tractor-trailer rigs loaded with backhoes and front-end loaders. Under the command of Master Sgt. Cleveland Lewis, a task force of 41 S.C. National Guard soldiers drawn from units across the state soon went to work clearing the way for Marlboro line crews to begin repairs and restore service.
“The National Guard troops assisting at Marlboro Electric were essential,” Fleming says. “They worked diligently alongside our lineworkers and office staff—clearing trees from lines, debris from the roads, directing traffic and even providing updates to our members at times.
“When 99 percent of your members lose power, it takes a big team effort to get the power back,” he continues. “The National Guard folks we had helping us became part of the Marlboro Electric family. They did everything we asked, so our line crews could do what they needed to do—get the lights back on.”
For his part, Master Sgt. Lewis—a Pee Dee Electric Cooperative member from Florence—praised the Marlboro Electric team for having a “surefire game plan” for repairs and employees who “bent over backwards to accommodate us.”
The men and women in the National Guard task force, many who live and work in the region, were more than happy to help their neighbors, he says. It’s why they volunteered to serve in the S.C. National Guard.
“We’re people from the same communities,” Lewis says. “Some of the guys—a good number of them—are Marlboro members. It’s kind of like getting our families’ lights back on, too.”
I share this story in the hope that it will inspire you to thank the citizen soldiers of the guard, as well as the men and women of the S.C. Highway Patrol, your cooperative’s line crews, local police and fire departments, and the emergency operations center in your county. They all worked together before, during and after Hurricane Matthew to show that, while the storm was a tough one, South Carolina will not be defeated.