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NEWS | Oct. 10, 2017

National Guard Soldiers supporting recovery on St. John in U.S. Virgin Islands

By Master Sgt. Paul Gorman 115th Fighter Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard

ST. JOHN, U.S. Virgin Islands - National Guard Soldiers from throughout the U.S. are assisting with hurricane recovery efforts on the island of St. John, as part of the Virgin Islands National Guard emergency response unit Task Force Bravo.

Led by Virgin Islands Guard members, many of whom call St. John or the nearby island of St. Thomas home, the Soldiers support the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Virgin Islands governor through the distribution of emergency rations, water and essential supplies to residents of the island.

Sgt. 1st Class Melinda Gibson, noncommissioned officer in charge of supplies distribution on St. John, applauded the resilience demonstrated by many of her team members.

"We have service members providing community assistance, who suffered significant damage to their own homes in the storm," Gibson said. "It really says a lot about the caliber of our Soldiers."

The Sept. 6 passing of Hurricane Irma was especially devastating to St. John. The majority of the 20 square mile island suffered severe structural and environmental damage, resulting in a complete loss of electricity and communications.

Unlike its larger neighbor St. Thomas, St. John has no airport, and must rely entirely on ferry service between the two for supply deliveries; a service made unavailable for several days in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Once Hurricane Irma had passed, Gibson and the Soldiers assigned to her team wasted no time getting started. Mission accomplishment was dependent on both hard work, and the willing assistance of several outside agencies.

The Virgin Islands Police Department, National Park Service and even a local marine towing service provided transportation, while military members hand transferred supplies from pallets to vehicles, vehicles to docks and docks to boats, only to reverse the process upon arrival at St. John.

As a member of the Virgin Islands Army National Guard and long-time resident of St. John, Sgt. Lindon Dagou is very familiar with the impact a major hurricane can have on the island.

"Even before I was in the Guard I would see all the outside help coming and thought, I need to do something for myself, and I need to help my people," Dagou said. "That was my reason for joining."

With Dagou's assistance, a primary distribution site was established on the Julius E. Sprauve School grounds in Cruz Bay. Soon after the St. John fire station in Coral Bay stood up as a second point of distribution.

Once ferry service had returned, entire semi-trailers loaded with emergency supplies were pre-positioned at the Cruz Bay site, allowing multiple agencies to store and distribute supplies more efficiently.

The Soldiers of Task Force Bravo now arrive each day by ferry, where they support distribution operations at both locations, playing a crucial role in what may be a long road to recovery for the residents of St. John.



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