(This is the first article in a five-part series on Puerto Rico, the people who came to support the response and recovery, and their homecoming.

After participating in her first disaster response, Patricia Fontanet Rodriguez heads back to Sacramento for a homecoming of her own.)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Homecoming is an American fall tradition, full of festivities, excitement and reunions. For several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees originally from Puerto Rico, homecoming has been a different experience this year.

Fontanet Rodríguez is a strategic communicator for South Atlantic Division Forward. At her home district in Sacramento, she is a planner whose primary responsibilities involve public outreach for flood risk management projects.

"Flying in, I had a window seat and was shocked to see the trees without any leaves, stripped bare, so many houses with blue roofs, rivers that are usually clear filled with sediment," she said. "I realized this was going to be bad."

As a communicator for the response, her duties focus on media analysis and developing talking points and news releases. She also translates releases into Spanish for more efficient communication with the media and local communities.

Fontanet Rodríguez grew up in Bayamón, a short distance inland from San Juan. Her family would vacation in Playas del Yunque, located on a small cape on the island's northeast corner, a short distance from a hillside community area where she visited Soldiers of the 249th Engineer Battalion Delta Company who were repairing power lines.

"Writing about Delta Company was pretty personal to me," she said. "They are repairing power lines that will ultimately bring power to the place where I have my best childhood memories."
Fontanet Rodríguez said she wanted to deploy to Puerto Rico because it is her home, and she wanted to help.

"I've developed a deep appreciation for all the people who aren't from here," she said, "people who left family, children, even babies to work long hours seven days a week. I am in Puerto Rico because this is my home, but most people did not have any obligation to come here. It means a lot that they did."

As a planner, she thought she'd be working in the field, using her Spanish to communicate directly with people in the neighborhoods about blue roofs, debris removal or electrical power.

"I viewed the assignment as a strategic communicator with some trepidation but now realize how important it is to tell the story about what we're doing here," she said. "Getting information to the people so they understand how the recovery is progressing is critical."

(Not everyone who worked with USACE during the response was a Corps employee. Next you'll meet Maj. Eduardo Rodriguez (no relation to Patricia), without whose help the power restoration mission would not have been possible.)