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EPME member leads local Joplin relief effort

McGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -  Members of The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center help load a truck with donated items, June 3, 2011,that will be delivered to the victims of the tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mavi Smith/Released)

McGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. - Members of The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center help load a truck with donated items, June 3, 2011, that will be delivered to the victims of the tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mavi Smith/Released)

McGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- An enlisted professional military education instructor at The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center left the area on June 3, with a 26-foot moving truck full of donated goods and headed for Joplin, Mo.

The town of Joplin was devastated by a tornado on May 22.

Packing winds of up to 200 mph, this killer tornado cut a six-mile swath through the community of roughly 50,000 residents. It killed 134 people and damaged or destroyed more than 8,000 homes and apartments, and more than 500 other properties including businesses, churches, schools and the area's largest hospital.

Touched by the events he was watching on television and motivated by his own experiences, Tech. Sgt. William C.H. Smith decided to forgo his vacation plans and go to Joplin to help with the relief efforts.

"Having been a survivor of Hurricane Katrina and having spent four months in New Orleans cleaning up afterwards," said Smith. "I have seen firsthand the mass devastation Mother Nature can cause."

In the summer of 2005, Smith had just reported to Keesler AFB, Miss., for training when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Smith spent 5 days living in a shelter before the Air Force sent him home to the Arkansas Air National Guard. He promptly volunteered to deploy to New Orleans and spent 4 months helping with the relief efforts there following the hurricane and massive flooding of the city.

Smith said this had a powerful effect on him, "to see that kind of destruction in our own country and to know that people are suffering is heart wrenching."

"It decimates people's lives entirely," said Smith. "I'm only one person but an extra set of hands can mean a lot."

Once he decided he was going to Joplin, Smith said he wasn't going empty handed.

He set up his personal 14-foot trailer next to the Armed Forces Club on base and spread the word about what he was going to do.

After a slow start, the donations came flooding in...cases of bottled water, food items, toiletries, bibles, clothing, bedding, toys and more filled both his own trailer and a rented 16-foot moving truck.

By Friday, Smith needed a bigger vehicle.

He rented a 26-foot moving truck and the staff of the Training and Education Center made quick work of transferring the donated items.

"I'm excited," said Smith. "I'm looking forward to getting there, getting to work, and getting all this stuff into the hands of the people who need it."

"I think it's one of the greatest things," said fellow EPME instructor, Tech. Sgt. Jeela Matthews. "Sgt. Smith is a good person anyway but this speaks volumes about him. I really appreciate what he is doing, and I know the people (in Joplin) will, too."

Chief Master Sgt. Donald E. Felch, the commandant of the Paul H. Lankford EPME Center, said Smith epitomizes the Air Force's core values.

"We talk about excellence, we talk about selflessness, we talk about service in the community and he's demonstrating those things," said Felch. "He has reflected on what it means to do more than we have to do. He went one step further and that is excellence."

"To be truly excellent...then our community has to extend beyond the limits of our morning commute," said Smith. "We're going to extend it all the way to Joplin and let the folks in Joplin know that the folks in Tennessee are thinking of them and care enough to help."