By Edward LoomisFebruary 14, 2018
When Army Soldiers and civilian employees join ad hoc teams to confront and overcome complex circumstances, they will often seek out things they share in common with their new teammates.
For U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) employees Alisa Behrens and Lisa Andes, sitting across a banquet table from one another in the middle of busy, open big-box retail store adapted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to serve as the Emergency Field Office (EFO) in Ponce, Puerto Rico, that common interest turned out to be creating haikus.
Rock Island District's Behrens said she welcomed the brief creative breaks that the short, Japanese form of poetry brought from duties inputting and updating data about the USACE "blue roof" (temporary roofing) program in the south central part of the island.
"It was a brain break," she said. "Our haiku breaks helped me get through the day."
Andes, a hydraulic engineer from St. Louis District, echoed that sentiment given that work shifts in Puerto Rico last 12 hours, but she also said that the extended togetherness of the work days also helped in part to spur their creative energy.
"The work could be long, and it brought our personalities out," she said. "It was amazing how people who we might not have otherwise met bonded and how it improved our morale. It was something we latched on to."
Haikus' roots reach back to early versions in late 1600s Japan. As written today in many languages including English, they consist of three lines of five syllables, then seven syllables, closing with five syllables.
"We all got involved," Behrens said, as haiku creation spread to other Ponce blue roof team members. One topic the poems explored was unique characteristics of teammates.
Behrens said some of her haikus were serious, but admitted most were humorous. In describing her haiku about Puerto Rico's native coquis, or small frogs with loud, clear night calls, she said it was "serious in tone, fun in nature."
They shared one of their creations about their assigned deployment mission:
Building strong each day
Puerto Rico Blue Roof Crew
We're here to help you
Corps employees deployed to Ponce supporting other missions recognized the blue roof team's bonding and cohesion.
"It is very important for everyone to take care of themselves both physically and mentally so you can be at the top of your game during response and recovery efforts," Diane Kozlowski, who served as a local government liaison at the Ponce EFO, said. "Switching over to the right side of the brain to give the left side some rest, is most creative and seemed to take on a team effort in the branch so everyone could participate."
Behrens returns from her assignment supporting Hurricane Maria/Hurricane Irma disaster response and recovery today, while Andes returns to St. Louis District February 19.