Guard calls students for hurricane recovery

Throughout the last trio of hurricanes to hit Florida (Charley, Frances and Ivan), FAMU students have answered their call to duty from the U.S. National Guard earning the title, Heroes of the Hill.

Since early August, thousands of Floridians have been attempting to salvage what’s left of their damaged properties, all while preparing for the next storm. This year’s hurricane season has been a roller coaster ride, one with momentary relief followed by heighten anxiety.

Hurricane Charley, which hit on Aug. 13, claimed the lives of at least 16 people. Hurricane Frances, which hit Sept. 5, killed at least 15 people and caused between $2 and $4 billion in overall insured damages, according to an article by An article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper claims that the two combined have caused the state over $30 billion. Not to forget the effects of most recent Hurricane Ivan, which ripped through Florida’s Panhandle Sept.10, causing at least 33 deaths.

“I take great pride in being a positive African-American role model,” FAMU student Johnathon Sellers, a 21-year-old senior graphic design student from Jacksonville, said

Sellers joined the National Guard in June 2003, knowing that his experience would help to further his career in the military.

Sellers, who is a second lieutenant and platoon leader of the 708 Maintenance Company, was first assigned to a mission in Lake City during Hurricane Frances after numerous pit stops to Crestview, where he is currently. Although reluctant to depart, he now realizes the importance of the National Guard during a statewide emergency.

In Lake City, Sellers helped set up roadblocks and with the distribution of water, food and ice. Similarly, in Crestview, Sellers helps with logistics and supply distribution.

He is one of about 20 other FAMU students that collectively make up 35 to 40 percent of college students who have been called to active duty in Crestview. Sellers has taken on the role of counselor to many of his college peers who experience mixed emotions and uncertainty about their personal lives and delayed graduation.

FAMU students who are called to active duty are given two options. They can withdraw from their classes because of active duty, which leaves them no obligation of fees or liability to the university. Or they can be granted approved excused absences. This option, of course, would entitle an agreement with the professor and student. Incomplete grades in classes can also be granted with student/professor agreement. FAMU Registrar Michael James said the entire university is usually willing to work with students who are in active or deactive transitioning.

Because there is no standard method of assisting students during these times, the FAMU Registrar’s Office handles each case on an individual basis, while never forgetting to consider what the students may have gone through while on leave.

Although there aren’t any programs designed to get students back academically where they were before departure, other options can be taken. Students can attempt to study abroad by taking classes online, or they can actually earn credits through government programs. However, these methods should be discussed before enrollment with representatives from the registrar’s office for approval.

James, who has been with the registrar’s office for seven years, said that because of the war on Iraq, this is the largest number of students he’s seen leave for active duty.

“I have the upmost respect for students who put their college careers/lives on hold to fight a war for freedom or provide relief,” James said.

Christina Marsh, a 20-year-old sophomore business student from Chicago, is an E4 Specialist in the National Guard who is assisting in Crestview as well. Marsh is currently working with her professors to keep up with her class. But with uncertainty of when she will return, she’s embracing the possibility of dropping all her classes knowing the longer she’s away, the harder it will be to catch up. If so, this will be the fourth semester she would have had to sit out. Marsh acknowledges her professors for their willingness to work with her and knows that going on active duty is a part of her job.

This is the first natural disaster that Marsh has experienced that has had such a great effect on people.

“Helping families who are looking for pieces of their lives among rubbish, is what’s most important to me right now,” she said.

Marsh and Sellers both said they find self-gratification in knowing they are so greatly appreciated.

Contact Shayna Tutson at