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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

Partnership Enables Sealift Relief Efforts for Puerto Rico

By Air Force Staff Sgt. William O'Brien Joint Base Charleston

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., Nov. 2, 2017 – The first humanitarian relief supplies sealifted from here to Ponce, Puerto Rico, departed Oct. 31.

In the hours following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Joint Base Charleston C-17 Globemaster III transport jets responded, delivering more than 1,700 tons of aid, supplies and medical teams to affected areas. The C-17s can get to austere locations quickly, but the amount of cargo they can carry is limited.

"The 841st Transportation Battalion has been working with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and other interagency partners over the past couple of weeks to move critical equipment and supplies to aid in recovery efforts in Puerto Rico," said Army Lt. Col. Chad Blacketer, 841st Transportation Battalion commander. "That effort culminated when we finished loading the [USNS Brittin] and it departed."

More Trips Planned

The Military Sealift Command ship is scheduled to travel between here and Puerto Rico several times over the next few months. The first trip is bringing essentials such as food, water and vehicles to get aid to areas where mudslides have created access issues. Later deliveries will provide the equipment to restore utilities and rebuild the infrastructure on the island, officials said.

"We plan to take the USNS Brittin on several rotations in support of the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico. The devastating hurricanes destroyed their power grid and much of their infrastructure," said Shawny Dallam, a FEMA transportation specialist. "On this first rotation, we have sourced specialized electrical maintenance equipment and other support supplies while still sending over basic survival support needs such as refrigeration units to cool food and medications."

The ship's captain, Alfred Murray, a Coast Guard veteran, has been part of numerous cargo shipments in his career. But this particular mission is more meaningful to him, he said, because he experienced the devastation of a natural disaster firsthand when his Mississippi home was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"They were hit hard by a natural disaster. The first things needed to get back to a normal life are food, water and to begin rebuilding, and this is a big part of that," Murray said. "People are suffering, because power and water are big parts of civilization and what we rely on to live. These are fellow Americans in need, and we are here to help them get their lives back to normal."

Efforts Continue

As the first shipment makes its way through the Atlantic Ocean, FEMA's cargo receiving efforts continue at the installation support base here in preparation for future sealifts. As the recovery efforts continue, the deliveries will begin to shift from essentials to the equipment and supplies required to rebuild the damaged infrastructure.

"FEMA continues to work with all of our military and private partners to send support equipment to help Puerto Rico," Dallam said. "The Army Corps of Engineers diligently works to improve the compromised dam and, in future returns, the ship will bring telephone poles to allow electricity to return to the island."

Blacketer said he is proud all these agencies came together to help those in their time of need and serve a purpose greater than themselves. "To all my fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, help is on the way," he added.

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