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Day 6 without power and counting...but it could be worse

Chief Master Sgt. David Eaton of the 157th Air Refueling Wing briefs members before going door-to-door doing welfare checks in Stratham, N.H. Dec. 16. Many residents are still without power six days after an ice storm hit the area. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Sherri Pierce)

Chief Master Sgt. David Eaton of the 157th Air Refueling Wing briefs members before going door-to-door doing welfare checks in Stratham, N.H. Dec. 16. Many residents are still without power six days after an ice storm hit the area. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Sherri Pierce)

Tech. Sgt. John Bober of the 157th Air Refueling Wing, Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. starts a fire for a local Stratham resident who was left without power due to the ice storm that hit the area six days earlier. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Sherri Pierce)

Tech. Sgt. John Bober of the 157th Air Refueling Wing, Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. starts a fire for a local Stratham resident who was left without power due to the ice storm that hit the area six days earlier. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Sherri Pierce)

Patricia Olson of Stratham, N.H., warms herself by the fire.  The 157th Air Refueling Wing assisted the town with welfare checks during the ice storm that left Olson without power and heat for 6 days.  (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Sherri Pierce)

Patricia Olson of Stratham, N.H., warms herself by the fire. The 157th Air Refueling Wing assisted the town with welfare checks during the ice storm that left Olson without power and heat for 6 days. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Sherri Pierce)

Dec. 16, 2008 -- It is 10 p.m. on Dec. 16 - going on day six of no power due to the ice storm last week. I know it would make this story more dramatic if I said I am writing this by candle light, bundled in a blanket trying to stay warm, but I'm not. Luckily, I have friends and family who have taken me and my family in since the power went out five days ago. Am I inconvenienced? Yes. Is it frustrating? Yes. Am I more fortunate than others? Absolutely. 

Take Patricia Olson of Stratham. When we arrived at her house around 1 p.m. on this afternoon, she answered her door wearing a winter coat and a fuzzy hat (you know, the ones with flaps and ties to strap it to your head) trying in vain to get her fire started in her wood stove. 

Before I get too far, let me rewind a bit and tell you how we got to Olson's house. The selectman in Stratham received an email from the Emergency Operations Center in Concord informing them that the National Guard was available to assist if they needed it. They decided that after five days of no power it was time to go door-to-door to check on residents and the town didn't have the manpower to do it themselves. 

Enter the 157th Air Refueling Wing. Ten two-member teams set out to the Stratham Office of Emergency Management to meet with the Police Chief Michael Daley to find out how they could help. Each two-member team was assigned an area in which to go door-to-door to check on residents. Tech. Sgt. John Bober and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Cox were assigned to "the most dangerous section and one of the hardest hit areas" of Stratham according to Daley. I decided to hop in their truck and watch the National Guard in action. 

It didn't take long - about four houses - to find Olson, home alone with her cat with no power. She had trouble communicating with us do to a medical condition, but with ashes and half burnt newspapers building up in the wood stove (and the sub zero temperature inside), it wasn't hard to deduce that she wanted a fire started.
Bober started to clear out the debris while Cox and I gathered some fire wood from outside. After several tries and numerous jokes about how he is an engine mechanic and not adept at starting fires, Bober managed to do just that. A red glow emanated from the stove and Olson started to clap her hands and mouthed "happy." She immediately took off her winter coat, and jokingly I told her it might be too soon to do that, but she was so excited that she didn't seem to care. 

Before we left, Bober and Cox left her some emergency information with Olson but without power or a cell phone she was going to be hard pressed to get in touch with anyone. Bober and Cox vowed to come back and check on her as well as bring back a 9-volt battery to power her non-functioning smoke detector. 

Interestingly enough, in the short time we were there, we learned a lot about Olson. She cares for endangered birds and other wildlife from her home and makes stained glass. While we were there, we also noticed a framed flag with an inscription saying "From a grateful nation and a loving family" and a shadow box filled with flyer's wings and medals including a bronze star. On the wall was a black and white picture of a man in uniform who, through a brief game of charades, we figured out was her father of whom this memorabilia belonged to and honored. 

We left Olson's house with a sense of gratification. It is missions like these that speak volumes to what the National Guard can and will do for its state and communities. This is only one of at least two dozen missions already completed by the New Hampshire National Guard and indicative of those still to come with the pending snow storms on the way and many N.H. residents without power. 

I am hoping for power myself, but I can say this for having no electricity - at least my PSNH bill will be lower this month!