By Sgt. Michael Eaddy, 24th Press Camp Headquarters:
(El Paso, Texas, Oct. 19, 2017)
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, used their capabilities to go into areas not accessible due to poor road conditions to deliver much needed food and water around the island.
For the past two weeks, the CAB, 1st AD, has been performing missions throughout Puerto Rico that deliver food, water and other supplies for life-saving and life-sustaining support to areas hardest hit by Hurricane Maria.
“A lot of us volunteered to come here,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Hanna, a Black Hawk pilot assigned to the CAB, 1st AD. “We are happy to help; my Soldiers are asking for duty day extensions because they are very passionate about helping out.”
While crews are making significant progress in the response to Hurricane Maria, recovery for Puerto Rico will require help from federal agencies and the community.
As access to ports, airfields and roads continue to open more resources will flow into hard-hit areas.
The CAB provides their contribution multiple times a week by delivering commodities to communities in the areas most affected by the hurricane.
“I’ve been on two different missions where we’ve delivered water, food, diapers and baby food,” said 1st Sgt. Jesus Jimenez, a native of Puerto Rico and first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “We’ll usually land in a baseball park and make our deliveries there.”
The desire to support is a complete unit effort. From the pilots to the most junior Soldiers, they are all willing, able and eager to get out into the community and serve the people of Puerto Rico, Hanna said.
“I just want to keep flying and help the communities,” said Jimenez. “Not only because they are Americans, but because I grew up here and I want to help.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commander of ground forces on the island, said Monday that military personnel have made great progress on the island, but the scale and scope of devastation caused by the storm was so great that much remains to be done.
“When I got here two weeks ago, we had 25 helicopters and 4,500 troops,” the general said in a phone interview with Defense Media Activity from the island. “Now we have 68 helicopters and 14,300 troops. We’re getting a lot done, but we have a long way to go.”
The general has been working shoulder-to-shoulder with Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rossello and the FEMA team, he said.
Most of the troops in the U.S. commonwealth are logisticians, medical specialists and aviation specialists, Buchanan said. Military personnel are still getting food, water and fuel to the people who need it. “We bring supplies in (to the major ports) and we distribute to regional staging areas with FEMA,” he said. “The Puerto Rican National Guard pushes it out from there.”
The military is also delivering commodities by air, with units such as the CAB, 1st AD. “We had to do that early on because a lot of areas were cut off,” the general said. Most communities are now being supplied via road, but there are still some remote communities where the roads are blocked.
Editor’s note: Jim Garamone, DOD News, Defense Media Activity, contributed to this report.