Wednesday, November 2, 2016

SFA HQ Falls victim to Hurricane Matthew's floodwaters

History has been left out to dry in a secluded compound south of Fayetteville. Filing cabinets sit open with fans trained on the papers inside. Books have been piled up to be sorted and salvaged at a future date. They sit atop display cases, filled with patches, berets and artifacts from wars from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. Cliff Newman walks through it all, occasionally pausing to thumb through a book or peak at debris stored in plastic bags. "We're still kind of in a state of shock," he said.

Newman, executive director of the Special Forces Association, said the nonprofit was hit particularly hard by the floodwaters that came with Hurricane Matthew last month. The 52-year-old association's compound off Doc Bennett Road - which includes picnic areas, a memorial garden and office space - was covered in nearly five feet of water at the flooding's peak.

Nearby Rockfish Creek, located down a steep embankment from the roughly 20-acre compound, rose 40 feet to flood all but a small chapel and rows of memorial stones, Newman said. "It was like a big lake," he said. "It just surged right in here and flowed back out again."

Weeks later, the national organization, which counts roughly 10,000 current and former Green Berets among its members, is still picking up the pieces. A team building used by the association's Fayetteville chapter, Chapter 1-18, was damaged so badly that it will likely need to be torn down.

Fences have been uprooted. Picnic tables and other debris are sticking out from a small manmade lake in the center of the compound. The group's headquarters, the Frenchy Amundson Building, will survive but has been gutted in the aftermath of the flooding, Newman said. Carpeting and insulation are piled outside. Ruined furniture is stacked by four flagpoles - with national, state, Special Forces and prisoner of war flags flapping in the breeze.

Inside is where the damage is most evident. "It's a little stale," Newman said, commenting on the musty smell of the once-flooded building. Parts of the walls are missing. Each room is stacked with piles of debris, some of which will be salvaged. Some is too destroyed to keep. Ruined electronics are stacked amid piles of plastic bags, destroyed magazines - archives of the association's quarterly Drop magazine - and documents which dated to the 1960s.

In another room, a bust of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, one arm outstretched, gazes at the damage. Awards and mementos from many a Special Forces career are disheveled amid the still-drying display cases. Photos and posters, some decades old and tracing the history of Special Forces, are stacked on top of them.

There are flags, uniforms and traditional clothing from around the world. "Some of this is salvageable and some isn't," Newman said. "Some of this is irreplaceable. It's history."

Newman is one of three employees at the Special Forces Association headquarters, which helps oversee 85 chapters across the globe. He was out of town when the hurricane struck on Oct. 8. He was called home with news of the devastation. "I got a call that my office was under water," he said.

The Special Forces Association saved what it could, Newman said. Board members grabbed what they could, and carried important artifacts home with them for safekeeping. Others have been to the compound since the water receded to take stock of what was left and begin to sort through the debris.

Meanwhile, the organization itself is in a holding pattern. Newman said the compound regularly hosts Special Forces veterans and their families. New Special Forces soldiers have a tradition of attending a barbecue there after their graduation. And veterans return each year for major holidays, memorials and celebrations. It's unclear when those activities will resume.

In addition to replacing most of their electronics and furniture, Newman said there is structural damage to be repaired. There was insurance, he said. But nothing for flooding, which had seemed like a slim possibility with the compound situated at least 25 feet up a steep embankment from the creek. "It's about $250,000 in damages," Newman said. "It's hard to say what will happen next."

The association doesn't have deep reserves, he said. It publishes its magazine at a loss as a service to its members. And it provides more than $30,000 a year in scholarships. After that, there's not enough left to rebuild and replace what was lost. "We need some help here," Newman said.

The Special Forces Association's board had an emergency meeting in the wake of the flooding. It will meet again today - in space borrowed from the Green Beret Foundation - to discuss what will come next. A priority will be getting operational again, Newman said.

The organization depends on its members' paid dues, he said. And the headquarters needs to stand back up to accept them. But that could take weeks, Newman said. Any repairs to the buildings will likely take months. "What are we going to do with this building? Where are we going to go until then?" he asked. "It's hard to say what will happen."

Article from the Fayetteville Observer

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