PUERTO NUEVO, Puerto Rico –
On a wet and humid Puerto Rican morning, soldiers from the 448th Engineering Battalion, Puerto Nuevo, Puerto Rico, clear downed trees and debris at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Puerto Nuevo, Puerto Rico. on 24 January 2018. The U.S. Army Reserve Center in Puerto Nuevo was ravaged by the hurricanes.
It's the first time the installation has had time to do a refit since transitioning from one hurricane recovery mission to the next. The downed branches, broken trees, smashed light poles and snapped telephone poles at the Army Reserve Center are now being dealt with.
Army spec. Reiner J. Santiago, a Horizontal Engineer with 475th Engineer Company and native of Puerto Rico, had only been back six weeks from Advanced Individual Training when hurricane Irma hit.
“It was chaos,” said Santiago. “We immediately lost power and got power back up just in time for Maria,” he added.
“When Maria hit … it was unbelievable,” said Santiago. There was no power, no cell phones or even radio, he added.
A few days after Maria had passed, Santiago was out hunting for some gas when he ran into a neighbor that asked what he was doing.
“He told me that a message on the radio said that all soldiers were to report to Fort Buchanan, [Puerto Rico] as soon as possible,” said Santiago.
Santiago gathered the gas he could and filled up his late model car. He headed out, concerned that the roads were not open.
“I had to drive in lanes for oncoming traffic,” he said. “I had enough gas for a one way trip, but I made it,” he added.
Like Santiago, there were many Soldiers that heard or were told of the message to report to Fort Buchanan and did so immediately. The devastation Hurricane Maria left on the island is one that has not been seen before.
As Soldiers struggled to get their families taken care and their homes in livable conditions, their dedication to their island, people and U.S. Army gave them the extra strength to undergo the next couple months of extensive hurricane relief.
“It's been tough to balance no power, civilian job, family, school and the military missions,” said Army Sgt. Ismaul Matos a horizontal engineer with the 756th Engineer Company from Puerto Rico.
“I'm a concerned that things won't go back to normal,” he added.
“I accidentally ran a red light the other day,” said Santiago. “I didn't even know until my dad pointed it out. The light has been out so long I didn't even check,” he added. “At least I have power now,” he said.
Santiago is among the few that have power. His comment elicited grumbles from the group, none of which have power yet.
“Barbecue at your place!” someone yells out and the group cheers.