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Effingham Magazine

Altruism reaches new altitude : Effingham sheriff’s deputy flies relief supplies to hurricane victims

Story: Stephen Prudhomme | Photos: Jami Brennan 

Adam Harmon said he was raised to serve and always felt the urge to help people. For 15 years, he’s responded to that call by working in law enforcement. Last year, Harmon’s altruistic bent reached new heights - several thousand feet, to be exact - as he flew supplies to hurricane victims in the Bahamas. Harmon, 33, is a sheriff’s deputy with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Department. For the past five years, he’s worked as the school resource officer at Effingham County High School. That follows a law enforcement career that started at 18. Following graduation from the police academy, he had stints at Armstrong State University, Pembroke, Springfield, and Port Wentworth; Harmon retired from the sheriff’s department March 19 to become a flight instructor. A native of Savannah, the Springfield resident is married to Cassandra and has two children, Lila, 4, and Aiden, 1. They’re expecting their third child at the end of May. Harmon’s older brother, Glenn, inspired him to pursue a career in law enforcement. “My older brother went into law enforcement,” Harmon said. “I went on a ride along with him and thought it was interesting. I always wanted to be the one dealing with someone’s sticky situation.” Things couldn’t get much stickier than what many residents of the Bahamas faced last September following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian. The Category 5 storm hovered over a number of islands in the Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. and caused massive destruction, resulting in a number of fatalities, tens of thousands homeless and billions of dollars in damage. One of the hardest hit areas was Treasure Cay, a parcel of land connected to Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and known for its resorts and opulent homes. Suddenly, many of these places had been reduced to rubble, and the planes landing at its airport weren't bringing vacationers but desperately needed relief supplies.  Stepping into the breach was Harmon, who had just become certified as a flight instructor and was working for Savannah Aviation Flight School; he had earned his private pilot’s license before attending the police academy, following once again in the path of his older brother, and said aviation is his first true passion. When the hurricane hit the Bahamas in early September, the flight school set up a 55-gallon drum to collect donated relief supplies. “It filled up fast,” Harmon said. “There were a lot of random, good-hearted people donating tons of water bottles, food, blankets and medical supplies.” The school set up a number of flights to take the supplies to the Bahamas- 12, to be exact. Zack Hartley, senior flight instructor with the Savannah Aviation Flight School, said Harmon is very intelligent and super dedicated and caring when it comes to flight instruction. Those traits allowed him to hit the air flying and aid in the relief efforts. “We needed all hands on deck to support the Bahamas,” Hartley said. “Adam was all in and instrumental in getting supplies down there. Moving from law enforcement to aviation shows his passion for aviation. His dream is aviation, and his passion is flight instruction. He’s a hardworking guy who genuinely cares about helping us out and is a leader in the community. We’re lucky to have him in our organization.” Harmon’s first flight was Sept. 9. Piloting a four-seat Cirrus SR-20 with an average cruising speed of 160 mph. and altitude of 8,000 feet and accompanied by fellow instructor Christian Rushing, he flew to Ft. Pierce, Fla., topped off his fuel and went the remaining distance to Treasure Cay Airport. With ground traffic control wiped out by the hurricane, Harmon had to rely on an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) military plane drafted into service for flight instructions in the crowded air space and fellow pilots for landing instructions. “Coordinating with the air traffic was challenging,” said Harmon, who flew over a number of cruise ships that were being used as temporary quarters for displaced residents. Landing his plane, Harmon was struck by the sight of downed buildings, felled trees and standing ones stripped of their branches and needles. “There was nothing green,” Harmon said. “It was like a big vacuum cleaner came in over the island. There were brown sticks all over the island and debris in the water. It was a sad thing.” Harmon also spoke to a local police chief, who described a scene of chaos and the residents displaying a survival instinct. “It was a rough time,” said Harmon, who arrived on the island some two to three days after Dorian left the area. Harmon said he considered flying people off the island but there was too much red tape. He added that his law enforcement background prepared him to stay calm    He wasn’t done helping out in the Bahamas. Following his return home, he signed up for a second relief flight. Accompanied by fellow instructor Chesapeake Gustin, Harmon brought another planeload of supplies to the decimated island; in the spirit of giving, the Effingham Sheriff’s Department donated time to Harmon so he didn’t have to use personal leave. Harmon’s brother, Glenn, said his younger sibling and he shared a love for aviation from a young age. In elementary school, he noted, they both played computer-based flight simulators, laying the foundation for flying real airplanes. Backed by supportive parents, they received as a gift a flight in a World War 2 vintage Navy SNJ. “That had us hooked,” Glenn said. From there, they began flying general aviation aircraft and taking lessons at Savannah Aviation. When Glenn obtained his pilot’s license, Adam quickly followed in his contrails.

The brothers also share a desire to serve.

“I believe Adam shares a strong commitment to serve that runs in the family,” he said. “We all volunteered with the Chatham Mounted Patrol for several years. I volunteered as a reserve deputy with the Effingham Sheriff’s Department, and my mom, Lisa, volunteered there as well. Adam did ride alongs with me and developed an enthusiasm for a job where you had the ability to make a difference in people’s lives during a crisis.” Glenn’s not surprised that Adam took relief supplies to the Bahamas. “He’s always dedicated to helping those in need,” Glenn said. “I know he finds being able to combine his passion for service with his own love of aviation to be exceptionally rewarding.” As on his first trip to the Bahamas, Harmon said he got a good feeling seeing people coming together in a time of need. “It was great to help out,” Harmon said. “It was an awesome thing coming out of a negative situation. It was neat to look at the team effort, of people coming together.” A former detention officer at the Effingham County Jail, Dorothy Hopf worked with Harmon for two to three years. “Adam’s a super nice person,” said Hopf, a friendly and helping person in her own right and a sales clerk at the Rincon Gate gas station. “He’s great with kids. He’s always looking for ways he can help others. All you have to do is ask. Adam’s a go getter and real people person. Helping the hurricane victims sounds like something he would do.”