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South Carolina National Guard continues to provide support in Puerto Rico

By Capt. Tammy Muckenfuss October 18, 2017

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico -- More than 150 South Carolina National Guard Soldiers from five different engineer units in the 59th Troop Command continue providing support in Puerto Rico since packing their chainsaws and boarding aircraft at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in South Carolina over two weeks ago, beginning October 1, 2017. They were requested to assist recovery efforts to help the citizens of Puerto Rico as they struggled to rebuild their communities and their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that devastated the island.

"When we got the call to go to Puerto Rico, we were ready. We had experience dealing with floods and hurricanes in South Carolina, so we knew we would be an asset to the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Thomas Kaiser, executive officer for the South Carolina Task Force.

Hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane, brought winds upwards of 160 miles an hour that ripped through the island September 20 destroying nearly everything in its path. The once green and plush terrain was left torn and bare, any trees that were left standing stripped of all signs of life.

"We knew it was going to be bad, but the reality and the visual of the devastation was stunning," said Caguas resident and Puerto Rican National Guard Soldier, Staff Sergeant Jose Rijos. "My first impression after the storm was the island is destroyed. Everything was gone. There were no communications. All power posts and cables were down. There was no way to communicate with each other or anyone else in the world."

The South Carolina National Guard engineers set up camp upon arrival in a baseball field in Caguas and began coordinating missions right away, working with the Puerto Rican National Guard's 190th Engineer Battalion to clear impassable roads of debris.

"Our goal is to clear roadways to provide better access for getting aid to the people and to repair infrastructure," said U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Varin, commander of the South Carolina Task Force.

The coordinated efforts of the South Carolina National Guard Task Force and the Puerto Rican National Guard's 190th Engineer Battalion has resulted in over 150 miles of roadways cleared. The Puerto Rican National Guard Soldiers affectionately refer to the South Carolinian Soldiers as "the termites" or "las termitas" as they aggressively charge their way through the downed trees like termites.

"I am always so proud of our South Carolina Soldiers who are ready at a moment's notice to help our fellow neighbors in need, even hundreds or a thousand miles away," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., the adjutant general for South Carolina. "Our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors in Puerto Rico whose homes and livelihoods were devastated by Hurricane Maria."

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