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Admissions Counselor Aids Families After Irene

Charles Ackley Jr. of Walworth comes to the rescue on a regular basis.

1st Lt. Charles Ackley Jr., right, stands in dress blues with fellow Army National Guard Ron Puryear.

Often, Ackley, an assistant director of admissions counseling, helps answer questions for high school students and their families as they consider whether Keuka may be the college where they want to earn their degree. He’ll visit high schools, malls hosting college fairs, and so on, offering information on courses of study, campus life and walking the student and family through the entire admissions process.

So when Ackley’s Army National Guard air aviation unit was called up for a service mission to aid victims of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene earlier this week, the coincidence was not lost that his unit was sent to aid the same region where Ackley’s college recruiting takes place.

Prattsville, N.Y., a town of about 700 people, lies south of Albany in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, and was one of the state’s hardest hit by Irene’s heavy rains and wind, suffering massive flooding that swept away homes, obliterated bridges and nearly wiped the town off the map. Flooding was so severe that the Schoharie Creek, which runs through Prattsville, rose nearly 20 feet over several hours Sunday. The national news spotlight hit the tiny town when the U.S. National Guard rescued 21 people trapped on the second floor of a small motel amid rising floodwaters.

Ackley’s crew, part of the Fox Company, 1st Division 169th regiment, was stationed out of the Albany airport, logging 14-hour shifts to aid storm victims in Prattsville. His crew flew Black Hawk helicopters from Rochester to Albany, arriving Sunday to begin serving.

Ackley, far right at cockpit door, looks on while the Black Hawk is loaded with supplies by Sgt. Larry Sloan, left, and Sgt. Jason Dolan, center. Image courtesy NYS Division Military and Naval Affairs.

“Basically, our role was assisting those who needed to get to a hospital first, and then getting individuals food and water,” said Ackley, who holds the rank of 1stLieutenant and serves as a platoon leader. “It was pretty devastated. They had lost their homes, and were without power and clean water. The Mohawk River had just flooded the entire area and when we arrived, we saw homes completely washed away. One lady pointed out a car that was originally parked on Main Street and [afterward] it was a good 400 yards away. Another individual showed us where his home used to sit. It was really sad.”

According to the state’s Division of Military and Naval Affairs, air aviation teams such as Ackley’s logged some 150 flight hours transporting nearly 60,000 pounds of food and water to isolated mountain towns in Greene and Schoharie counties that were not easily accessible by road.

A Prattsville home damaged by the floods. Image courtesy NYS Div. Military & Naval Affairs.

“We flew several missions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to deliver food and water to that area,” Ackley said. “As soon as we would land, the fire department and other townspeople were there with trucks to take the food and bottled water and deliver it.”

According to Ackley, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were on hand as recovery efforts were under way, with FEMA providing MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) and bottled water. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrived, and took a flight with FEMA officials to survey the damage. Cuomo estimated some $1 billion in damage statewide, and requested that portion of the Catskills be declared a federal disaster area. According to the governor, upstate New York was hit harder by Irene than New York City or Long Island with more than 600 homes destroyed, six towns inundated, 150 major highways damaged, and 22 state bridges closed.

“As of right now, they’re trying to get the infrastructure back and trying to get a handle on that,” said Ackley, who returned to his job as assistant director of admissions Thursday. “They are still upbeat, for a town that had just completely lost everything. They’re thankful to have their lives and thankful to have us bring down food and water.”

Ackley, center, was joined in the Irene Task Force relief mission efforts this week by Chinook helicopter pilots Ben Postle, right, and Ken Hilkert, left.

According to Fred Hoyle, Ackley’s boss and associate vice president of admissions, Ackley’s unit had received word to prepare to be called to an East Coast region after Irene struck, but in “an intersection of fate” he was assigned instead to the very region he’ll visit this fall, “the very families he’ll be counseling on college decisions.

“I don’t think Charles would’ve ever imagined he’d help the families in his ‘area’ in this life-changing way,” Hoyle added. “Yes, helping families make a college decision is life-changing, but so is helping to meet their basic human needs – for water, medicine, supplies. He’s serving in his territory in a way he never would’ve imagined.”

But service is nothing new to Ackley, who began as an admissions counselor at Keuka in 2008. Ackley spent 19 months assigned to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where members of his air ambulance unit completed flight school training. Ackley completed his assignment last spring and returned to campus to resume his civilian duties.

“It was unique to me because this is my (recruiting) territory,” said Ackley. “Those are families I would work with and talk with [about college decisions.] It was kind of nice in the perspective of being able to go down and help them out.”

5 Responses to Admissions Counselor Aids Families After Irene

  1. Carolanne Marquis says:

    As Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Keuka College one of the privileges of my position is that Enrollment Management reports to my office.

    I am so proud of Charles, his dedication to his country, the military and Keuka College. Charles brings integrity and commitment to everything he does and especially to the students he counsels as they enter our college.

    I would also comment that he is one example of a staff of counselors who exemplify professionalism, caring and remarkable counseling ability as they work with incoming college students.

    Congratulations to Charles and the entire Enrollment staff for yet another example of their excellent work.

  2. Peter Bekisz says:

    Charles, you’re one of the best people I know. Thanks for all you do for us at the College and us as a nation.

  3. Sister Mary Salvaterra, Ph,D, says:

    Charlie,

    Congratulations! I am so grateful for all you do for families in need. Congratulations on achieving the award granted to you last spring. I regret not being able to attend the ceremony. We are proud of you.

    How is your family? The boys must be tall like you.

    Sister Mary

  4. Keuka Student says:

    That is phenomenal. Thank you so very much for your help in my town.

    Now what can Keuka do for current students who’s families are suffering from the aftermath of this storm?

  5. Daz says:

    Charles, you are the embodiment of true community spirit, what sterling work you have been doing in helping all these people in their hour of need, the whole college should be very proud of what you have done!

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