CEIBA, Puerto Rico – Since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20 in Puerto Rico, relief efforts worked nonstop to assist those affected by the storm.
Hurricane Maria left many towns isolated with little to no food and water. Additionally, because of power outages and extensive damage to the island’s infrastructure, many of the roads and bridges were either damaged or inaccessible.
However, with the assistance of the military, help came from the sky.
Flying among those relief efforts are the Soldiers with C Company, 6th Battalion, 101st General Support Aviation Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
“The mission here is disaster relief, so as a medical evacuation company we are primarily search and rescue and evacuation of patients either from point of injury or between hospitals,” said Cpt. Kenneth Danos, the executive officer of the company while in Puerto Rico.
Arriving days after Hurricane Maria, the unit has delivered more than 4,000 pounds of food, more than 4,000 gallons of clean water and conducted countless patient transfers and medical evacuations.
However, for the Soldiers of Dustoff, responding to hurricanes is a familiar mission. Over the past several months, the unit was on standby to support Hurricane Harvey and staged Soldiers and equipment in Alabama and Florida as a contingency if called forward to assist in relief efforts for Hurricane Irma.
“Everyone needs medical evacuations, so no matter what time of the year or day it’s our job to be ready,” Danos said. “Just being in the 101st you know you’re going to be the first to get called cause if you want it done you’ve got to call the 1-0-1.”
By continually training and being prepared, the unit is able to respond quickly and, oftentimes, little notice.
“As far as us going to support all three hurricane relief efforts, it’s nice to actually go out and have the sole purpose of helping people in need,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Gabriel, a flight medic with the company.
With so many missions coming in such a short period of time, Gabriel said the key is to maintain a certain level of readiness because things often move quickly in the days leading up to the unit’s departure.
“They say we’re going somewhere, we grab our gear and we do what we’ve got to do,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very little time we have to prepare, so we have to constantly be ready.”
However, training for humanitarian missions is different from typical Army training.
“Usually we train for a deployed environment where there are hostile players involved,” Danos said. “Here, it’s the environment that is the hostile player, and it’s a part of our training but we’re used to being in Afghanistan so it’s a little bit different.”
Not only is the environment different, but the results are different as well. For Danos and Dustoff Soldiers, it is knowing they have helped someone that keeps them going.
“Seeing the people you help and seeing the impact you’re having keeps your morale up,” he said. “You’ve always got to think about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for and know that you’re helping. It’s pretty awesome.”