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NEWS | Nov. 14, 2019

Weathering the storm: 81st RD makes major progress in Puerto Rico

By 1st Lt. Chantel Baul 81st Readiness Division

The 81st Readiness Division commanding general Maj. Gen. Kenneth Jones and Command Sgt. Maj. Levi Maynard visited Puerto Rico to check on recovery progress made since Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.

The hurricane caused island-wide devastation, including to the U.S. Army Reserve’s 12 sites outside Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.

The 81st RD facilities suffered significant damages totaling more than $13 million. Since then, the command has completed about 90 percent to 95 percent of all priority-one projects, according to the 81st Regional Facility Operations Specialist Carlos Fuentes, in Puerto Rico.

The Director of Installation Support and Regional Engineer, Col. Victor Green, said the 81st RD commander set priorities for the repairs, which are essential to the life, health and safety of troops who work there. Priority of repairs are roofs; heating, ventilation and air conditioning units; and shop roller doors.

Facilities that took the most brutal beatings from Maria have received or will receive in FY20 new roofs made from a special weather-resistant material, and they have received brand new energy-efficient HVACs, many of which were reaching the end of their lifecycle, according to Green. Beyond that, the Area Maintenance Support Activity shop and other maintenance-like facilities have received new hurricane-resistant roll-up doors and destroyed light poles were replaced with brand new solar panel poles, improving resiliency and sustainability.

According to Fuentes, the process for getting repairs after Maria is meticulous, going from the initial inspection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) all the way through the final approval via the Charleston District from USACE, in coordination with the 81st RD Directorate of Public Works.

“The repair timeline depends on the extent of the damage and what needs to be done,” Green explained. “Time will tell, but the goal is to strengthen these facilities and make them more resilient to withstand another natural-made or man-made emergency.”

The 81st has a team of Department of the Army civilians and military technicians in Puerto Rico who maintain the facilities, repair unit equipment, and provides personnel support to 1st Mission Support Command Soldiers and Families, which is headquartered on Fort Buchanan. The 81st RD does not have any Soldiers assigned in Puerto Rico, but rather maintains the facilities for its tenant units from the 1st Mission Support Command and the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and active duty Army, Marine Corps and Navy service members. Fort Buchanan also serves 150,000 Army Reserve retirees.

In total, the 1st MSC has about 5,000 Soldiers throughout the island who need reliable facilities to train in during battle assemblies throughout the year to ensure readiness. Though the 1st MSC does not fall within the 81st RD command, the 81st is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of those facilities to ensure that training requirements are met and equipment is properly housed, according to leadership.

“Right now, we’re at the peak of hurricane season, so we’ve shifted priorities to make sure that the Army Reserve is capable of having the critical equipment up and running that can support the delivery of fuel to our reserve centers if they lose power, because the infrastructure here is very weak. . . So, the sustainability of our Army Reserve Centers (and) Fort Buchanan is critical to the combat readiness of our forces,” Jones explained.

“Our Army Reserve centers are (like) micro-military installations that service hundreds of Soldiers and their Families to build readiness for the Army Reserve,” said Jones, which goes in line with USAR commander Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey’s vision for the Army Reserve.