OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. --
Last September Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, one of the largest and most destructive hurricanes ever recorded on the island. Maria made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. The hurricane devastated much of the island and left over a million people without electricity, and many without access to fresh water.
In the immediate days following the storm, President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico, and the National Guard was mobilized to assist communities struggling to survive.
Two months later as most Americans were getting ready to spend Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, seven members of the 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron from Otis Air National Guard Base traveled to Camp Tortuguero in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, to assist with the ongoing humanitarian relief effort.
1st. Lt. Rob Montgomery explained, “Our mission was to sustain the camp that provided support for the Army, FEMA and the Red Cross. We made sure all of those groups had power and water in their facilities.”
The civil engineers supported over 400 personnel at Camp Tortuguero including members of the Army’s 130th Engineer Battalion and the 1010th Engineer Company. The 102nd sent Airmen with different specialties that were required to keep the camp up and running including structures, HVAC and electrical power production.
Due in no small part to the engineers near month-long mobilization, the Army was able to provide over 100,000 meals and 600,000 bottles of water to people in the northern region of Puerto Rico who were cut off from the rest of the island. Because many of the roads in the area had been washed away and the electrical grid had been destroyed, the work that the Army was doing to provide resources was critical.
“The people had no way to cook or get water. The Army was bringing in those essential items so people could feed themselves and have water for the day,” said Montgomery. “The highlight of the trip was knowing that we were supporting the Army so they could go out and support the community,” he explained.
The work that the 102nd Civil Engineers did at Camp Tortuguero made the Army’s life sustaining actions around countryside and throughout the community possible. The help these citizen soldiers of the Massachusetts Air National Guard provided played an important role at a time when the people of Puerto Rico needed it the most.