By Suet Lee-Growney, Fort Riley Public AffairsJanuary 16, 2018
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- It was during the middle of Dolly Valentin's vacation when she received a call from her boss, Cheryl Erickson, Army Community Service chief, asking if she was interested in going to Puerto Rico on behalf of Army Emergency Relief.
Hurricane Maria made landfall on Valentin's home territory Sept. 20 and left the island in crisis on all fronts from power outages to basic human needs, such as clean drinking water. Valentin, a Fort Riley AER support specialist, knew she had to go home and help -- even if it was just doing her small part in meeting needs to process the exponential spike in AER loan requests.
"We got a request that Puerto Rico was getting 50 clients a day, which is an extraordinary number," Erickson said. "It was obvious they were in distress and they were looking for AER specialists to come and help and I thought of (Valentin) immediately because I knew she had family in Puerto Rico … and she's our go-to person for AER loans."
In less than a week from when Valentin got the call, she was on a plane Nov. 29 to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. Valentin said her team's goal was to help expedite the process of churning out AER loans to U.S. Army veterans and their families.
"They had a lot of applications that needed to be processed," she said. "Our mission was to process those requests and have them come to the building and pick up their checks."
Before the storm, there was only a part-time AER support specialist working at Fort Buchanan. The need for AER funds by veterans spiked exponentially after the island was devastated by the hurricane. Valentin worked alongside three other AER representatives from Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Being bilingual in English and Spanish made Valentin an asset to the AER mission in Puerto Rico.
"Not everyone, especially the older generation, is as fluent in English," she said. "It's one of the things that I've been grateful to my parents is that they taught me my native my language and that's very important and I encourage everyone to learn."
Valentin and her team worked long hours to do their part in Puerto Rico, but she did manage to squeeze in some time to visit her mother and family in her hometown of Fajardo.
"I got to see some of the areas without electricity still and some of the destruction that the hurricane caused and it was very emotional to see that," she said. "For me to be able to see that and to know what they're going through made me feel more grateful to have had the opportunity to go and help."
Erickson said Valentin was the best person for the mission not only because she was good at her job and was bilingual, but because she truly cared about helping, even if it meant being away from her family in Kansas.
"She's the queen of efficiency when it comes to AER loans -- that woman can crank out AER loans like nothing you ever saw," Erickson said. "It just couldn't have been a better match … I know she has a passion for helping and caring for people."