By Robert DeDeauxFebruary 2, 2018
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico- A muddy red jeep's thick black tires locked and skidded on a narrow winding road, as four horses galloped across the broken, washed-out pavement. The vehicle moved forward with two vehicles trailing to a water plant surrounded by a chain-linked fence.
The vehicle's driver side door which read "U.S. Army Corps of Engineer" opened as Jim Cole, Task Force Power Restoration Quality Assurance Manager led a team of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Fluor and Pike electrical crewman to generate power to the water plant and ten homes on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, Jan. 29.
"I'm here to help the people and that's why USACE is here." expressed Cole, a Vicksburg, Miss. native. "It's a hard mission, but I'm glad here."
Cole's primary mission is to verify contractors quickly and safely perform their task of restoring power to the island, located 8-miles east of its mainland. He routinely performs additional jobs.
"Unofficially, I'm actually a program manager. I do all of the coordination for USACE Task Force Power Restoration on Vieques, help the generator mission, assist Federal Emergency Management Agency with request, help the local people coordinate with the proper state or federal organizations, and I help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge with request on the island," listed Cole, a program manager coming from USACE Mississippi Valley Division.
"On Vieques; FEMA, the Coast Guard, the contractors, we are all by ourselves and we became a team fighting for the people," said Cole. "I am giving a 110% to support USACE and help these people every day."
The first day on the island he followed the contractors as they carried approximately 20 electric poles loaded onto trailers. They turned on the main road and there was a fruit and vegetable market that day. When those individuals at the market saw the Pike trucks turn onto the road, the people started jumping into the streets. They were shouting for joy, giving each other high fives and thanking the crews for coming to the island. It was an awesome event to see. He knew right then. He had landed right where he needed to be, Cole recounted.
"They were so grateful we were here," Cole recalls.
"I'm happy everyone is here to help," said Michael Lowe, a 20-year resident of Vieques.
Before hurricanes Maria and Irma, Vieques, was powered by Puerto Rico' electric power grid through an underwater 38 Kilovolt transmission cable. The cable is broken. There are now two PREPA 3 megawatt generators currently supplying some electricity to the 21- miles-long by 4-miles-wide island. Some parts of the island have been without any power since the storm.
"In Kansas we had tornados but hurricanes just flattened everything," said Lowe, a Manhattan, Kansas native. "It's just overwhelming."
"The people are hurting on this island," said Cole, "but now I think they see some hope. They know we are here to help."
In less than one month Cole, along with the contractors, have installed 100 power poles and six transformers.
"It's critical that they put someone who is passionate about people here," said Cole. "I often tell people God gives people different gifts. And my gift, I know it, is to serve people."