Friday, September 29, 2017

Military in Puerto Rico Will Stay Until 'All Needs Are Met,' DoD Liaison Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2017 — Federal officials in Puerto Rico stressed today that the island has suffered catastrophic damage and that it will take time to recover from the devastation Hurricane Maria wrought upon the commonwealth.

Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the joint force land component commander on the island, said military forces of all components are working closely with civilian authorities to serve the people of Puerto Rico.

Buchanan -- the Defense Department's liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency-led effort -- and other officials spoke with reporters via phone from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Food, water and medicines are moving to regional support centers throughout the island, said John Rabin, the FEMA Region 2 director. "We are continuing to support the governor's priorities of saving lives, sustaining lives, moving food and water, hospital assessments, and providing diesel fuels to hospitals. We are doing this all in partnership with the Department of Defense, our Puerto Rican colleagues, as well as all the other federal family."

Puerto Rico National Guardsmen and active duty personnel are important in getting commodities from regional support centers to the people who need it – the so-called "last mile."

Buchanan took command of all DoD forces working in direct support of FEMA when he arrived last night. Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, had determined that it was time to switch from a maritime-based command to a land command. "We have currently 4,500 troops – it might be up to 4,600 – on the ground from all services and all components," Buchanan said. "Our capability is building every single day, and we will keep building until we have fully met the needs of the people of Puerto Rico."

Dual-Status Commander

Rabin said the dual-status commander structure is in place to ease command and control of National Guard Title 32 troops and active duty Title 10 forces. "We are able to put both federal and state forces together under the command and direction of one officer," Buchanan said. "Things are working great. We have excellent unity of effort, and we can focus on meeting the peoples' needs. It's a total force commitment: all services, all components."

Service members are working to clear roads and to open seaports and airports, and they are ensuring food, water and other necessities reach the people who need them the most.

Commonwealth and federal experts have assessed 69 hospitals on the island. One is deemed fully operational, 59 are functional, though partially degraded, four hospitals are closed, and five more hospitals are still undergoing assessment.

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort left Norfolk, Virginia, today and should arrive in Puerto Rico next week.

Eight of Puerto Rico's nine airports are open, and five of six priority seaports are open as well. The power grid is recovering, but it is still having problems. As the grid gets electrified, more damage is spotted, and it must be fixed. The electrical grid is in worse shape on the eastern part of the island. "The transmission grid will have to be rebuilt across the whole island," Rabin said.

Fuel deliveries have been increasing, and more than 500 service stations are open on the island. Military personnel are ensuring diesel fuel is delivered to critical nodes to keep generators going for facilities such as hospitals, command and control centers and airport control towers.

Face of Defense: Airman Gives Back to Veterans

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Boyd, 110th Attack Wing

BATTLE CREEK, Mich., Sept. 29, 2017 — Air Force Senior Airman Javonte Lofton works as a hazardous material specialist with the Michigan Air National Guard’s 110th Logistics Readiness Squadron here, and he said it’s his duty to give back to the men and women who wore the uniform before him whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Veterans hold a special place in his heart, Lofton said. His wife is a disabled veteran. She deployed to Iraq with the Army Reserve’s 428th Military Police Company in 2010-11, and then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2012-13. So, he said, America owes it to veterans to show them that what they have done for the nation is appreciated.

Veterans in Need

Many of these men and women may have physically come home, but many of them also left a piece of themselves there. Some came home and struggled to adapt to being a civilian again. They lost their families, homes and friends, and ended up living on the streets. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that there are 39,471 homeless veterans in America on any given night. Many are homeless because they aren’t receiving the care and benefits that they are entitled to.

There are also veterans that have homes, but can’t do the things that they used to. They can’t get out and mow their lawns or shovel their driveways, and they don’t have family help them.

“Many of these guys are retired and they just can’t get out there and do some of these things for themselves anymore,” said Lofton, who often spends his spare time helping veterans.

Small Gestures Mean Big Things

Even the smallest of gestures can go a long way in making a difference. Some people spend time at the VA hospital or veterans homes, just stopping in to say “Hi.” Others help out veterans in their community by mowing lawns, which is what Lofton does for the people in his neighborhood.

“I just figure that I am already out here, and it takes an extra 20 minutes or so to mow the lawn or shovel off their driveway,” Lofton said.

Lofton also helps others in need by donating money to hurricane relief and assisting inner-city youth in the community here.

“I also try to mentor some of the kids that I see at the basketball court to help keep them out trouble and let them know that it’s not what you have on the outside that makes them who they are,” he said.

He said he doesn’t help others for the recognition; he just wants to do what he thinks is right and to do his part to make his community, and the lives of a few veterans, a little better.
“I don’t really do a lot. I just try to help out where I can,” Lofton said. “These people already did their part for us. It’s the least I can do for them.”

Pennsylvania National Guard Joins Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Efforts

By Army Lt. Col. Angela King-Sweigart, Joint Force Headquarters, Pennsylvania National Guard

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa., Sept. 28, 2017 — The Pennsylvania National Guard sent 14 crew members and two CH-47 Chinooks yesterday to assist Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The heavy lift helicopters will be used to support relief and recovery missions throughout the island and assist in efforts to strengthen the badly damaged dam.

Sling-Load Operations

Crews will perform sling-load operations to place extremely large sand bags to reinforce the dam structure. Sling-loading refers to suspending cargo under a helicopter and moving the item from one location to another.

The aircraft and crew are flying multiple missions over the next few days en route to Puerto Rico. Upon arrival, they will integrate with thousands of other National Guard members and first responders.

Additional Pennsylvania National Guard members are on duty in the Pennsylvania National Guard’s joint emergency operations center here. The center maintains continuous communications with the National Guard Bureau and PEMA in order to anticipate future requirements that could be assigned to the Pennsylvania National Guard.

‘Our Thoughts are With the People of Puerto Rico’

“Our thoughts are with the people of Puerto Rico as they recover from this storm,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Tony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general. “As always, the Pennsylvania National Guard is proud to assist those in need whenever and wherever we are called.”

Earlier this month the Pennsylvania National Guard sent troops and equipment to support Texas after the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and to Florida after the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.