VIRGIN ISLANDS - Two officials from the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia who have been on ground in St. Croix to help support Hurricane Irma relief efforts visited communities in St. Thomas that were hit hard by the Category 5 storm.
Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard, Brig. Gen. John Boyd and Sgt. Maj. Douglas Conaway, senior enlisted leader for the Operations and Training Directorate, ARNG drove around St. Thomas communities and interacted with residents to assure them that the National Guard is here to help.
Boyd, Conaway and Monique Douté-Ferrell, a member of the Senior Executive Service and the director of the Army's Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program, along with Virgin Islands National Guard members went to communities where people were experiencing difficulties in getting information and supplies.
"I am here to assist the people in their recovery and to hand out humanitarian assistance supplies in the areas that we are able to visit," said Boyd.
They conducted visits to the Tutu High Rise housing development and Old Tutu in Ras Valley, where, in many cases, the destruction was overwhelming. "The destruction here is very widespread and ranges from minor to complete destruction depending on the home."
The majority of units in the development sustained damages that make them uninhabitable. Trees and power lines had been uprooted from concrete and asphalt and strewn about.
"General Boyd was willing to drive around with me to see how people were personally impacted," Ferrell stated of Boyd's efforts to reassure the community.
"I have been working at VITEMA [Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency] every day since the storm I consider myself tremendously blessed, I have a roof over my head every night. I have no complaints this is the absolute least I can do."
"I am trying to help some of my former neighbors," said Ferrell, who happens to be from St. Thomas but no longer lives in St. Thomas.
Ferrell visits several times a year; this year, her visit coincided with Hurricane Irma's landfall to the territory.
In the aftermath, Ferrell dove right in to volunteering to help those who were hit the hardest "I'm concerned that many of them are being told to go to the distribution centers to pick things up."
They loaded up a van with rations and water and headed out to neighborhoods that were hit hard; where people are limited in their mobility.
Ferrell lamented the fact that many elderly had to endure many hours of standing in long lines for necessities. "That's fine, but many of them don't have the ability to go out and get food and water."
"We have to do better, particularly for our aging folks. This is the least that I could do, it's not much, but I helped a few families today, maybe put a smile on their face and gave them hope."
The group handed out necessities to more than 50 residents in the communities, and took notes on their immediate needs before exhausting all the supplies.
"I am glad to be here and happy that I'm able to help the people of the Virgin Islands recover from this storm," Boyd said.
Ferrell expressed her opinion that the community would come back from the devastation. "We are resilient people, we will come back strong. What I want them to do is be compassionate to each other and help each other out as much as they can."
She went on to state that she and so many others from the local community as well as our federal partners, the military-Department of Defense, FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and many other entities care about the people of the Virgin islands and want us to come back strong. "I just want everyone to be hopeful, it's going to be a long road, but if you just keep a positive attitude we will see that tomorrow is always better."