FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Less than 48 hours after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, a small, all-volunteer team of information technology experts from the Northeast Regional Network Enterprise Center at Fort Drum was there to support relief efforts.Kristopher Johnson, regional network infrastructure division chief, and five NEC Employees traveled from Fort Drum to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 24, to help restore communications and infrastructure at the Army post and in surrounding communities.Johnson said a request for volunteers was announced Sept. 21, and there was no shortage of people willing to go. He said it had to be a "boots on the ground" effort because it would be impossible to assist remotely while communications there were severed."We had no idea what the conditions on the ground were, but I had a line outside my door of folks that were ready to volunteer and come into austere conditions and the unknown in order to help strangers," Johnson said.The team was assembled based on specific specialties and experience required for catastrophe response such as telephony systems, long-haul data transport and infrastructure repair. He said that Fort Drum NEC personnel had previously traveled downstate to Fort Hamilton, to assist after Superstorm Sandy tore through the East Coast."We used that knowledge base to develop the team that we needed and the tools we had to bring," Johnson said.When they arrived, the situation they encountered was bleak, with some roads covered in debris and others nearly impassable from high standing water. Johnson said that people are living with no electricity or running water, lack of fuel and no cell phone or Internet coverage."The conditions on the ground are challenging at best," he said. "It is pretty dire in some areas, understanding that there is a ton of federal assistance here."Johnson said the six-man team was essentially tasked with the assessment and repair of any telecommunication issues they encountered. Second to that, he said the team was able to relieve Fort Buchanan's emergency-essential IT personnel who were unable to return to their homes and tend to their Families since the disaster struck."After the hurricane, because some of the roads were destroyed or washed out, they couldn't get back home to their Families and some of them hadn't spoken to their Families for three, four or five days," he said. "Our team allowed that staff to go home, take care of their Families, and then they could come back and focus on the mission of rebuilding Puerto Rico and the Caribbean."Keith Baker, telecommunications mechanic, said that the work they did during Superstorm Sandy was accomplished more remotely, where power could be restored by moving circuits from Brooklyn inbound over to Manhattan. In Puerto Rico, where entire buildings were demolished, the work is more door-to-door for them."We're actually out in these facilities trying to access our switches, making sure the fiber optics are okay, making sure the (communications) cables entering the building are not damaged in any way," Baker said. "We're out more -- more 'boots on the ground' -- here."The team engineered and installed a Land Mobile Radio System and established a 911 telecommunication service, which is used to connect local first responders to their Fort Buchanan counterparts that enables them to work together to respond to any emergencies and restore civility in the communities.The team also was able to assist U.S. Army and Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel stationed at the San Juan Convention Center with establishing their information technology network and capabilities for cross-collaboration between local and federal agencies.He said that they don't always get a hot meal or a cot to sleep on every night, but everyone on the team is motivated to help alleviate the suffering that the people of San Juan and Fort Buchanan are experiencing. If that includes clearing debris and repairing fences, or distributing bottled water from their own supply, Johnson said that his team will do it."It's not just IT for us, it's all about the people," he said. "I couldn't be prouder of my team and what they've done for this island. We are helping our own. We are helping Americans. My team walks around with smiles on their faces knowing that we're doing something good."Johnson said that it is likely the team will return to Fort Drum next week, but they will continue to assist Fort Buchanan personnel."Right now, we've actually made a significant amount of progress in restoring communications at Fort Buchanan," he said. "The plan is that we can help them remotely with supplies, with knowledge and, obviously, with our thoughts and prayers." 