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Feature Story

Boeing Photos: Eric Shindelbower

Inspired by stories of disaster, survival, resilience and recovery, more than 100 Boeing employees in Huntsville, Ala., joined a constant stream of volunteers in an all-day, intensive clean-up in the ravaged communities just north of Boeing facilities. Volunteers, many of whom had been involved in the effort since immediately after the tornados struck, poured in to spend the day hauling debris to help families safely gain access to their homes and property.

Boeing employees rally for tornado relief

Some of the volunteer activity was captured that day using a mobile phone.

Scores of Boeing employees recently helped clean up neighborhoods in Huntsville, Ala., where colleagues, friends and families lost homes and loved ones during tornadoes that swept through areas near Boeing facilities in April.

"Machines just can't do this work," said Bob Gallagher, a Boeing engineer on the Ares rocket program. "It takes an army to sift through the debris, cut the fallen trees, and carry it all to the edge of destroyed properties" where public officials can haul it away.

Gallagher was one of nearly 100 Boeing volunteers who showed up with little more than 24-hours notice to dig into the long shifts of removing debris and rebuilding where possible. While the destruction in bigger cities were the focus of national attention, the tornados cut a non-stop path of destruction across 132 miles of the region and the most violent tornadoes – rated at EF5, the highest tornado rating – came through the Huntsville area.

Stories and photos of Boeing employee losses mounted in the days following the storms and co-workers were eager to get out and do some good.

"When we came out here, it was a gut check," said Boeing finance employee Mark Weeden. "No matter what you see on television, it doesn't prepare you for the real thing. We all worked hard today and did some good, but it's going to take months of work to put a dent in this level of destruction. We'll be back."

"I'm here because I know people at Boeing who lost everything," said Rose McHone, a supply chain manager for Boeing’s Global Services & Support division. "I needed to do something."

"When we came out here, it was a gut check," said Boeing finance employee Mark Weeden. "No matter what you see on television, it doesn't prepare you for the real thing. We all worked hard today and did some good, but it's going to take months of work to put a dent in this level of destruction. We'll be back."

Rusty West, a Boeing employee in Huntsville and a volunteer firefighter in the area with the most destruction, had been out conducting search and rescue operations and was coordinating volunteers in the area just north of the Boeing facilities where many employees live.

"Boeing volunteers have been out from the beginning, so when I was asked to help find a place for more, I never expected this many. Maybe 20; not 100," West said. "This community has really pulled together."

Employees signed up through FEMA and joined the thousands of volunteers all over the area.
"I knew it was bad, but driving through the streets and seeing complete destruction… I'm still in shock," said Boeing volunteer Leslie Bradley, shaking her head. "The violence a tornado can do is unimaginable."

Employees saw a giant hole punched into a home where a tree had been tossed through one end and came out the other. Leafless sticks were all that was left of neighborhoods that had once been green with mature trees and populated by established homes. Those trees now litter the area, preventing homeowners from tackling reconstruction. At the end of a day spent wielding chain saws and hauling debris, there was great progress – but still so much left to do.

Grateful, and often teary-eyed, homeowners walked through the neighborhoods thanking volunteers for their generosity. One homeowner – his house destroyed by a giant tree and his property littered with more trees – urged volunteers to go to other neighbors, too, saying he could "make do."

Wiping a sweaty brow and covered with wood chips, Boeing Space Launch System engineer Wayne Kingery said he just needs to feel he's making a difference in the face of so much destruction. He'd been out working at every opportunity since the storms.

"So many of us escaped without much damage; I need to help others who weren't so lucky," Kingery said.

Employees around the country feel the same and have so far donated more than $102,000 to the American Red Cross to help tornado victims in Alabama. In addition to an Employees Community Fund of Boeing Alabama contribution of $25,000, the company has also donated $100,000, and The Boeing Stores contributed more than 2,500 articles of men's, women's and children's clothing.

Employee responsiveness and generosity also helped in the wake of many other recent disasters, including a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan this year, and more recently tornados in Missouri.

"Boeing employees have contributed and continue to contribute millions of dollars through our online My Community Giving program helping others during times of greatest need; whether close to home or in far-away places. Their generosity and global spirit are recognized throughout the world and give even more significance to Boeing's longstanding commitment to good corporate citizenship – everyone, every day and everywhere," said Anne Roosevelt, vice president of Global Corporate Citizenship.