Joplin, Missouri (CNN) -- Chris Carriger is a 6-foot-1-inch, 250-pound police detective who served four tours in Iraq with the Missouri National Guard.
But even someone with that size and life experience is no match for an EF5 tornado, as Carriger learned Sunday night when one struck his house in Joplin, Missouri.
"My feet were actually being pulled in the air," Carriger told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do to keep there, and (I) just kept grabbing for the first thing I had. And that was the (bathtub) faucet. And basically, some debris fell on me and kind of held me down."
Carriger's home was one of about 8,000 structures destroyed by the twister's swirling 200 mph winds, City Manager Mark Rohr said, citing a Federal Emergency Management Agency report.
The devastation "looked like some of the things I'd seen in Baghdad," Carriger told Cooper, recalling his stints as a military policeman who came upon the aftermath of several firefights.
Although Carriger lost his home, in some respects he's lucky. His wife was away at work when the tornado hit, and the two dogs in the house -- his family Havanese and a black Labrador K9 from work -- safely rode out the storm in a closet.
Beyond that, Carriger says he's fortunate to live in a community where so many people are reaching out to help each other -- especially the newly homeless.
"We're staying wherever we can find with friends," he said. "We've had numerous offers. (Joplin residents') friends and family are opening their homes."
Even with his home in ruins, Carriger went right back to work at the Jasper County Sheriff's Office, paying forward the kindness he has been shown. Officers are patrolling the devastated areas and enforcing curfews while the fire department searches for missing people.
"There are other people out here," Carriger told Cooper. "We've got to get these people help, too."
While many trials lie ahead for the people of Joplin, Carriger is encouraged by everyone uniting for the better good.
"The American spirit is there," he said. "It's strong. We'll get through this. We just have to bond together."