By U.S. ArmyOctober 27, 2017
FORT CARSON, Colorado -- Soldiers from the 4th Sustainment Brigade are providing vital support in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Having helped with Hurricane Harvey in September, the 4th SB, 4th Infantry Division, was prepared for the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where it is currently stationed. The unit deployed at the end of September with nearly 200 troops and has been in Puerto Rico for a few weeks. Col. Geoff Kent, 4th SB commander, said the troops teamed up with the Puerto Rico National Guard and are scattered throughout various locations on the island providing food and water to the citizens. The Department of Defense assists civil authorities to provide disaster relief after the local water treatment facility was damaged by Hurricane Maria.
"Our mission here is to support (Federal Emergency Management Agency), other federal agencies and the Puerto Rican National Guard to ensure that commodities, either coming in by air or by sea, are pushed out to regional support areas and then further on to points of distribution throughout the island and ultimately to points of need, which are families who are affected by the hurricane," Kent said.
He said there are many areas which are still greatly affected by the hurricane, but they have seen much growth and stabilization in the communities. Many people are returning to work, and restaurants and stores have opened back up.
"While the island is not back to normal, they are finding a new normal," he said.
Seeing the devastation of the island motivated the Soldiers even more to provide the needed relief to the citizens of Puerto Rico, Kent said.
"This is a mission of spirit, a mission of the heart and when the Soldiers are out and engaging with the local population; the local population is very gracious and very thankful," Kent said.
Kent said his troops are happy to be a part of the mission, their morale is high and he knows every day his troops are making an impact.
"We bulk-produce water totaling approximately 400,000 gallons of water, to date, and have established water distribution points throughout the island where they do not have running water," Kent said. "(We run) a lot of truck missions pushing bottled water and food, infant and elderly kits; service to churches and hospitals, ensuring they have the fuel they need for their generators."
Only a few weeks ago, when the unit arrived in Puerto Rico, trees were stripped of every leaf and every branch was broken, Kent said. After only a few weeks, much of the greenery has come back.
Much progress has been made with the engineers and road clearing teams having made way where most of the roads are clear, especially on the outside of the island, Kent said. Because the middle of the island is the most difficult area to maneuver with larger vehicles, the troops have had to make use with smaller vehicles, nontactical vehicles and helicopter support to ensure supplies are delivered in the needed areas.
With 68 municipalities on the island, the unit conducts civil engagements with the mayor of each municipality on the island to understand what is needed and required in each area, Kent said. The unit consistently conducts assessments and how to quickly provide water and supplies for each area of the island.
"What we've learned here is that you have to be prepared to work through a lot of friction," Kent said. "It's a dynamic when you do a disaster relief, there are a lot of things that come into play. … We have had great success in establishing relationships and working toward a common goal, which is to bring stabilization and relief to this island."
The troops have been living out of abandoned buildings and setting up cots where they can. Some Soldiers were able to stay in the hotels when they began reopening. Base camps are currently being built, with tents, offering longer-term living conditions while the Soldiers assist with relief efforts.
"Water purification specialists are living at their site, Guajataca Lake, where they are purifying water, because that's where they are producing water for nearly 18 hours a day and distributing water for nine hours a day," Kent said, adding that the troops are rotated to the base to get a shower and a hot meal.
"Soldiers do what Soldiers do, and they make the most of their situation," he said.
Kent praised the Soldiers for their relationship building in the local communities and their high morale during a difficult situation.