TOBYHANNA, Pa. –
No one expected to be stranded at DLA Distribution Tobyhanna for 30 hours from Friday, March 2, to Saturday, March 3, 2018. However, no one expected 23.6 inches of snow, high winds and closed highways and roads.
But, in the face of the early spring snow storm, DDTP personnel reacted with resilience, teamwork, courage and leadership.
As dawn broke over the Poconos, rain intermixed with slushy snow. By 8 a.m., the accumulation began. Employees were offered liberal leave and the opportunity to depart the installation early. It took courage for employees to leave early and traverse the austere environment where, by noon, Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, had six inches of snow and high winds causing drifts reaching two feet in height.
Highways were slowly closing due to multiple vehicle accidents and icy snow covered roads. While the trek was long and arduous, these team members made it home safely. By 10 a.m., several of the major highways were closed and the few that were passable had lowered speed limits amid the poor conditions.
The local community Emergency Operations Center lost power and communications were deteriorating as a major cellular service provider lost power and the tower/repeater batteries were quickly draining any remaining battery back-up power.
As the day progressed and the snow poured down in white out conditions, DDTP employees still on base united. Snow drifts were knee-high to waist deep in many places. Employees, management and staff unified in assisting one another from digging vehicles out, pushing vehicles that had become stuck, shoveling pathways in which to maneuver, and escorting personnel with disabilities through knee high snow. Employees who managed to get out ensured they traveled in caravans in order to watch one another and make sure everyone arrived at their homes safely.
At approximately 3:15 p.m., it was announced that I-380 had finally opened and the remaining employees attempted to leave the installation. However, due to worsening conditions, with continual accidents on the highways and trucks being stuck and disabled on all the surrounding backroads, the last twenty five distribution center personnel found leaving the installation was next to impossible.
Michael Verton returned to his duty position in DDTP’s headquarters building and began getting calls from employees stuck in traffic just outside the gate.
After about two hours of little to no movement on the roads, Robert Dodson, deputy commander of DLA Distribution Tobyhanna, returned to the headquarters building with other employees that were also stuck in the exodus. Once on site, Dodson began taking accountability of DDTP employees.
Dodson and his team of supervisors, both on base and off, as well as employees that had returned to the installation, accounted for the remaining DDTP personnel. This was extremely challenging given the conditions and little to no cellular service. However, DDTP worked together to overcome the challenge by utilizing social media, instituting a ladder call chain and relying on text messages which still remained intermittent. DDTP leadership provided an immediate contact to distribution headquarters and updated them continually throughout the evening and next morning.
Once accountability and communication lines opened, employees worked together to share dry socks and clothing as well as pooling snacks together to ensure employees had something to eat. The group knew sheltering in place was the best course of action and prepared for the overnight stay at Tobyhanna Army Depot. Employees remained upbeat and worked together as a team.
Adding comic relief, Dodson stated, “Lt. Col. Jerome Barnard and I have wanted to set up events outside of work hours to improve camaraderie, but this is not what we had in mind.”
Members of DDTP were able to talk with each other and bond together in a different light. Employees helped each other, kept positive attitudes, and even laughed at the situation. Resiliency was at a high, accountability was maintained, and DDTP successfully overcame the situation with positivity, courage and teamwork.
Mike Marra, retail storage supervisor stated, “Everyone from the top of the chain of command, to co-workers, kept accountability of everyone in their section. From making it home, to coming back to base from being stuck outside, and staying on base and never leaving. Everyone kept their spirits up, not one person complained,” Marra said, adding, “Leadership from top to bottom was checking the status on everyone in DLA and ensuring they were safe.”
Saturday morning saw Tobyhanna Army Depot plow trucks, with the county’s permission, clearing the roads from the gates to the highways with employees following cautiously behind.
DDTP Commander, Lt. Col. Barnard stressed the importance of attitude and resiliency since his arrival, stating, “Despite everything Winter Storm Riley could throw at the workforce, DDTP exemplified all that is positive in the organization and lived up to its motto “Attitude is everything.””