HAZARD, Ky. –
“Always Ready, Always There” isn’t just a saying for the men and women of the Kentucky National Guard, it’s the mentality that they carry with them every day no matter the circumstances.
No better example of that than Sgt. Kathleen Thomassy-Mills, a heavy equipment operator (12N) with the 207th Engineer Company.
Thomassy-Mills is currently a temporary technician working at the Hazard armory as the 207th Engineer’s readiness non-commissioned officer. Due to the flooding that hit her family’s home in July, she lost everything, forcing her and her husband and children to live in a camper that was provided by her grandfather that is sitting in her neighbor’s front yard. But despite all that, and even not having uniforms to wear since hers were washed away in the flood waters, she only took a week off before returning to work, showing her dedication and selfless service.
During the night of July 28 and 29, rain caused the water of aptly named, Troublesome Creek, to rise and flood her family’s trailer which sat about 20 yards from where the creek was. She was home asleep with two of her five children and her husband Derek when her sister Brittany called and woke her up.
“My sister started calling and I kind of ignored it at first, but she kept calling,” said Thomassy-Mills. “When I did answer the phone, my sister just said, ‘it's flooding’.”
As she jumped up to look outside, she saw that the water from the creek was as high as she had seen it so she decided to wake her husband up.
“We made some coffee and were sitting there looking at the water,” she said. “We looked away, and by the time we look out again a few minutes later, there's water up to the steps. Since we had our small children with us, that’s when my husband decided we needed to go.”
She woke up her children, one who is 3 years-old and the other a 9-month-old, packed some clothes for the next day and grabbed the diaper bag before she headed out to her car. By that time the water had risen to over ankle deep forcing her to walk through the water to get to her car.
“It was so scary,” said Thomassy-Mills. “It all happened in the span of like 30 minutes to an hour or so and as we got in the car to drive up the hill to our friend's house, I couldn’t see the driveway since it was completely covered with water. I knew the number one thing they tell you not to do was not to drive through water but I had to get out and I knew where the driveway was so I had to try.”
As she got herself and her children up to her friend's house higher up the hill, her husband stayed back trying to save what he could.
“About 30 minutes later he arrived at our friend’s place”, she said. “He had just left with enough time for him to get the car out without getting ruined and when he got to us, he just said ‘it's gone, there's water in the house. It's gone’.”
Around that same time cell service in the area had stopped working leaving Kathleen and her family unable to contact family members who they knew were also affected by the flooding.
“All we had was each other at that time”, she said. “Literally, all we had was each other and the things I could throw in bags and put in my car and my dog.”
As the rushing waters broke their home apart, and not knowing if their families were okay, all they could do was wait and watch.
“I think I was in shock,” Thomas-Mills said. “Helpless is the best way to describe it because you're like what can you do; nothing.”
The following day or so they were able to make contact with their loved ones and found out that no one was missing or injured and that there was only property damage to her sister’s place.
As for the three older children Thomassy-Mills has, they were fortunately staying with their grandmother in Tennessee.
With everyone in her immediate family safe, she turned her concerns to her Guard family that she also knew lived nearby and was probably dealing with the same situation.
“We had several Soldiers in my unit that lived within three miles of me and I was really concerned about them, “ she added. "But I was able to contact them or find out they were okay three or four days later.”
Within the next few days, she heard from those Solders too and was able to focus on what she was going to do next.
What she did was to attempt get her life back to normal as soon as possible and not dwell on what she didn’t have but instead focus on what she did have.
“I just get up every day and make it as normal as possible for them (her family) and try to look at the big picture,” said Thomassy-Mills. “Everybody's first question to me was, ‘What are you going to do?’ and my response to them is, ‘what do you mean? What can we do; We just start over, you start over’.”
And the first step to starting over was to get back to work, to the surprise of her supervisor and others in the unit.
“I was surprised to hear that she was coming back to work so soon,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chadd Robertson, operations non-commissioned officer for the 207th Engineer Company. “I told her to take as much time as she needed and we’d figure everything out and we’d get by.”
But that wasn’t something Thomassy-Mills was going to do. She knew there was work to be done.
Since she’s been back at work, she’s met numerous top leaders of the Kentucky Guard who have come by to visit the area. She was also able to meet and get a photo with Mitch McConnell, Senior United States Senator- Kentucky and the Minority Leader of the United States Senate, while he was there to see the damage to the area.
“She’s tough and just keeps going,” added Robertson. “She’s earned the respect from everyone throughout the state, everyone is willing to reach out to help her.”
Some of those that have reached out to help were Robertson and the commander of the unit, Capt. Matthew Peterson. Peterson even enlisted help from his grandmother who had been shopping for clothes for Thomassy-Mills and her family.
“It’s been great to have all the help that I’ve received,” said Thomassy-Mills. “I haven't had to buy diapers or groceries; I haven't had to do anything little to make it day-by-day. Anything you could imagine people have brought me. Just the sense of community here and people taking care of people has been amazing.”
“It's something good that came out of all this because it really has shown how much they really care about me and my family.”
For now, the Thomassy-Mills family has everything they need, including lodging which is a blessing that Kathleen and Derek hold on dearly to. As they move forward, Kathleen says she will continue to ‘Hunt the Good Stuff’ and practice other skills every Soldier learns from their yearly resiliency training.
“I’m just really thankful for everyone, she said. "From my neighbors right up on the hill to my fellow Soldiers in the 207th. I'm thankful for the community and I'm thankful for the Guard and everyone that has helped us or just said something nice to us. I'm just I'm so thankful for that.”
If you're a Soldier affected by this past week’s flooding, please reach out to the local Army Emergency Relief office at Fort Knox at (502)-624-5989. Other resources like USA Cares FEMA or your units Family Readiness Group are great resources as well. .