By Sgt. Christopher HernandezSeptember 5, 2017
BEAUMONT, Texas - During a humid, sun-drenched afternoon in the midst of a flooded river, two Zodiac inflatable boats traversed cautiously through the debris of the murky currents. Two crews of Soldiers from the 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company, a Texas Army National Guard unit based out of El Campo, Texas, operated both watercraft vehicles, Sep. 3.
Immediately after Hurricane Harvey's landfall in Southeast Texas, the 551st MRBC dispatched 59 Soldiers to perform rescue, relief, and recovery operations in the affected areas.
"We are here doing search-and-rescue relief as well as helping with anybody who needs to get from one area to another," said Spc. Dylan Nelson, a bridge crewmember with the 551st MRBC. "Since we're one of the only units in Texas that has boats, we use those if we need to (with) the amount of Zodiacs that we have."
"Currently, we've rescued upwards to 800 people in the Texas area...moving between five different counties in Southeast Texas," said 1st Lt. Joshua Wiegand, an executive officer of the 551st MRBC. "Everyone that you see here volunteered to come and help out, and we want to do the best we can."
To facilitate their endeavors, Soldiers of the 551st MRBC employed a variety of skills and equipment consistent with their engineer backgrounds.
"We prep bridges and launch bridges along the bays, and also place ribbon bridges as well," said Staff Sgt. Jason Cruz, a bridge crewmember and squad leader for the 551st MRBC.
The 551st MRBC have also encountered various other scenarios, such as local citizens requesting help to move their boat wedged onto a riverbank with just their Zodiacs.
"When we were helping out that large boat, it was really an honor to do so because that's the type of stuff that we do to push the limits of our equipment and help the locals in dire need," Cruz said. "We will step up to the best of our ability."
According to Cruz, this entire operation marks the first time that new members of the 551st MRBC have encountered a real-world disaster situation.
"We have a lot of young Soldiers that have not been deployed yet, so this is their first real mission in which they actually stepped up and really accomplished things," Cruz said. "The leadership that we had within this unit has helped them and prepared us for any other natural disasters that we may have."
The 551st MRBC plans to maintain their presence in the Beaumont area to an undetermined date.
"When I can do something like this to help out the local community, it means the world to me because it's the reason why I joined the Army," said Nelson. "When I get to help people in my own backyard, it's honestly just a dream come true."