ORANGE, Texas - “Stop, they might need something!” Spc. Laura Campa barked at Sgt. Andrew Felthous, the driver of our high-water truck.
He obliged, stopped the vehicle and pulled back his window. Campa took off her seatbelt and leaned over him. “Ocupan algo?” she asked. ‘Do you need something?'
The two middle-aged women with two small girls shook their heads no and continued to walk.
“They're Hispanic, they might need something and not be able to ask for it” she explained to me, “I always stop to ask, even if they don’t wave for us." Felthous put the vehicle back in drive to catch up to the lead truck.
As a public affairs specialist assigned to escort a journalist on a relief effort mission for the Texas Military Department, I was intrigued. But as a Mexican-American, my intrigue increased two-fold.
I asked Campa if she felt that her ability to speak Spanish had proven useful during their mission to distribute food, clean water, and supplies to Harvey victims in low-income neighborhoods of Orange.
“We went to one shelter to give out supplies, and a woman there couldn’t speak any English. I had to translate for her,” she said.
On this particular venture, Spanish was far from a foreign language. Out of 11 Soldiers and one civilian journalist on the mobile supply distribution mission in Orange, eight of us were bilingual. I soon realized there was no standard operating language for this mission.
We all found our operational tempo in the neighborhood we were assigned to bring relief to.
Texas National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division trekked through flooded streets asking residents what items they needed. They shouted the requests back to the truck and returned with the items.
The embedded journalist and I took photos and captured videos of the Soldiers in action.
Several streets down, I found myself shouting requests "Agua, necesito agua!” I yelled down the road, ‘Water, I need water!' I had put my camera down to help.
The Soldier on the truck handed me a case of water.
As soon as I passed off the water, I asked for the next item. "Pañales, talla dos!” I shouted back to him, ‘Diapers, size two!’ Requests for supplies continued to bounce back and forth between driveways and LMTVs in English and Spanish.
Language was fluid that day - there were no barriers. We acted and reacted rhythmically because we understood each other far beyond the words we were speaking.