TSTC in Waco Students, Faculty Answer Call to Provide Hurricane Help

(WACO) – Adam Pechacek saw it as a sign.

Pechacek, 27, of West and a student at Texas State Technical College, said he and his girlfriend prayed as Hurricane Harvey made its destructive visit in late August to the Texas coast. They wanted to help the people affected, somehow.

His neighbor, Bryce Grimes of Georgetown and a TSTC Welding Technology student, appeared shortly thereafter with the answer Pechacek was seeking.

“He (Grimes) knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to go south,” he said.

Although Grimes and Pechacek planned a relief trip to Port Aransas that was to start on Labor Day, a few days earlier two TSTC faculty members had been activated by the Texas Army National Guard. Angel Newhart, statewide Aerospace chair, was with troop members in Katy and in the Beaumont area while Aaron Gilbert, a fixed wing pilot instructor, also worked near Beaumont.

Hurricane Harvey was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the Coastal Bend since Hurricane Carla landed in 1961 on the northwest part of Matagorda Island, according to The Weather Channel.

Grimes, 25, said he wanted to help those affected by the hurricane in a direct way. He and Pechacek asked friends and neighbors for items to pack in Grimes’ white 1990 GMC Suburban to take to Port Aransas. Grimes also gave some of his personal belongings to the effort.

“We went down there with $60,” Grimes said. “The last place we topped off the gas tank was in La Grange.”

Grimes and Pechacek ended up at Cowboy Camp David in Port Aransas, a volunteer effort at feeding residents, first responders, law enforcement and workers cleaning up the city. Volunteers cooked donated food on stoves run off propane and generators.

“We had people from all over the state pulling together for one goal,” Pechacek said.

Grimes, who grew up in a military family, and Pechacek, a member of the U.S. Air Force for five years, said their military and survival knowledge helped them through the sunup-to-past-sundown work of feeding people.

“You were finding a solution to everything,” said Pechacek, a certificate major in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics Specialist.

Grimes said leaving the camp on Sept. 8 was a hard decision to make. He and Pechacek consulted with their instructors to miss classes and catch up once they returned to Waco.

“I feel like four days wasn’t enough,” Grimes said. “I didn’t want to leave.”

Grimes and Pechacek said they want to return to the area later in the fall.

“You have to still move forward,” Grimes said. “People said we will rebuild.”

As Grimes and Pechacek worked in Port Aransas, Newhart was waist-deep in water alongside Guardsmen rescuing people in Katy and later in Orange and Jefferson counties. Newhart, a chaplain, was activated from Aug. 27 to Sept. 10.

“We help the members have the opportunity for religious services,” she said. “Soldiers are people too and have the freedom of religion. We take care of the soldiers to make sure they have what they need spiritually and maintain their moral compass.”

Newhart said it was the first time she had seen hurricane damage and its impact on people up close.

“My faith gives me strength and that’s what I depend on,” she said. “As long as I have God, I’m good.”

Newhart returned to her office in TSTC’s Col. James T. Connally Aerospace Center on Sept. 11.

“The first day it was relaxing,” she said. “You get to take a breath. I found myself wanting to go out and take care of somebody. It’s different when you are in the water praying with someone.”

Newhart spent four years in the U.S. Army as an aerial intelligence specialist and later worked in counterintelligence. She joined the Texas Army National Guard in 2011.

Aaron Gilbert, 22, of Paradise, joined the Texas Army National Guard when he was in high school. He was activated for hurricane duty from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7 and was a driver on search and rescue missions. He saw vehicles floating in several feet of water.

“The local communities were excited to see us,” he said. “They donated a lot of food to us.”

Gilbert graduated in 2017 from TSTC with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Aircraft Pilot Training Technology. His career goal is to fly for a commercial airline.

“Being a flight instructor is a lot of fun,” Gilbert said. “You get to meet a lot of students from different places.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.