FORT BUCHANAN, Puerto Rico –
After a catastrophic event, like Hurricane Maria that plowed through Puerto Rico, Army Reserve Soldiers are putting their training to use not only in assisting their communities but their families as well.
Accountability of military personnel and their families is one of the most critical missions for military leaders. Without power and communications, leaders must be creative in finding ways to gain accountability of their Soldiers. Twenty-two days after Hurricane Maria impacted the island, 1st Sgt. Virgen Rodriguez, 271st Human Resources Company first sergeant, had yet to make contact with one of her Soldiers from Vieques, a small island off of Puerto Rico.
“I was asked by my battalion commander, how I was doing,” said Rodriguez. “I told her that I was doing well, but I was worried because I had not made contact with one of my Soldiers that lives in Vieques.”
Rodriguez’ concern was not only for the well-being of her Soldier after the hurricane, but she knew he required insulin and wanted to ensure he had access to the medication.
Col. Maria Juarez, 166th Regional Support Group commander, asked Rodriguez to send her a direct email with all the details related to her unaccounted for impacted Soldier.
“After sending the email, I was visited by the brigade command sergeant major and then by the brigade commander and informed that I was to report to Cebia, Puerto Rico the next day, Oct. 12 so I could go find my Solider,” said Rodriguez.
While sharing her excitement with other Soldiers, a question arose about Rodriguez traveling to Vieques without any security. Since the disaster, commodities like food and water are highly sought and sometimes others resort to violence in order to get what is needed.
“I was unable to get security assigned since it was such a late request but something extraordinary happened,” she continued.
There was another sergeant around that took the initiative and offered to accompany me and provide security on his day off, said Rodriguez. This Soldier has a personal weapon that he is able to carry in Puerto Rico and surrounding islands so that was a huge blessing.
Ready for their mission, Rodriguez, Sgt. Danny Pizarro and Spc. Carlos Basabe coordinated to meet up at 4:00 a.m. on Fort Buchanan and head to Ceiba.
“My husband and son were very excited and helped me put together a few care packages,” said Rodriguez. “My son’s birthday just passed and he decided to share some of his gifts with my Soldiers children. I made sure I carefully wrapped up the insulin so it wouldn’t break or damage during the trip.”
Upon her arrival to Fort Buchanan, Rodriguez met up with Pizarro and Basabe. They were both ready to go with a footlocker filled with water and a duffel bag full of MREs.
“We left in my vehicle towards Ceiba and waited until 7:00 a.m. to meet up with the point of contact given,” said Rodriguez. “But, we never found him, so we went to the FURA (Maritime Surveillance Division) police station which was not very far from where I was supposed to link up with our contact.”
After explaining their situation, the officer in charge of FURA informed them that they would provide transportation to Vieques and coordinate with security upon their arrival. Rodriguez, Pizarro, and Basabe then loaded everything onto the boat, and they were on their way to Vieques.
“We didn’t know if the address I had for Spc. Jose Mangual was accurate, so we decided to go to his place of work,” said Rodriguez. “Once we arrived at the clinic of Vieques, I asked the director if Mangual happened to be working there and sure enough, he was.”
Mangual is the only technician on Vieques that provides maintenance on all the dialysis machinery in the town of Vieques.
“When we walked in there, and he saw me, he was in complete shock,” said Rodriguez. “He told me that he woke up that morning asking God for a better day and we had just made his day with all the supplies we had taken him.”
Rodriguez recalled the words Mangual told her, “You not only say it during our formations that you will take care of us first sergeant, but you are also here today for me! Thank you so much!”
Rodriguez ensured Mangual had a list of resources available to him and his family.
“It’s like God had a plan for me to find him and I just had to let myself get guided by him,” said Rodriguez. “Everything worked out, and I found my Soldier.”
“I was so happy to find my Soldier,” exclaimed Rodriguez. “He was surviving in Vieques and helping the people that need access to those machines daily for their dialysis treatments. He has been resilient through all of this, and I am so proud of him.”
Rodriguez commented on how a success story like this, makes her job as a first sergeant meaningful.
“I love and enjoy my job,” said Rodriguez. “This kind of success fulfills me as a leader and makes me feel more comfortable, strong and confident on my duties as a first sergeant.”