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NEWS | Dec. 13, 2017

Airmen aid Puerto Rico town first struck by Hurricane Maria

By Master Sgt. Chris Botzum 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico National Guard

MUñIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico - On Dec. 9, a pre-dawn assembly of Airmen assigned to the 156th Airlift Wing conducted relief missions in Puerto Rico. Unusual? No, the Puerto Rico Air National Guard's recovery efforts continue having a huge impact on the residents of the U.S. territory.

However, that morning's mission was for Yabucoa, the town that experienced the destruction first from Hurricane Maria, three months ago.

Still reeling from the effects of the storm, Yabucoa, on the south-eastern corner of the island, bore the initial full forces of the storm with winds reaching 150 mph.

"This town was directly hit by the hurricane, so they're really suffering," said Tech. Sgt. Jose Otero, 156th Airlift Wing safety NCO who hails from the municipality. "In this town, as well as all parts of Puerto Rico, they respect the efforts of the Air National Guard, what we do and what kind of relief we bring."

The municipality of Yabucoa is a flat agricultural land region surrounded by mountains.

Travelling into the town continues to be difficult at best for the first-time traveler. It was evident that the massive electrical transmission structures leading into the town had been shattered, while most of the huge highway signage directing traffic lie broken and folded on the roadsides, unreadable.

The team of more than two dozen from the 156th Airlift Wing was comprised of Airmen from numerous career fields and ran the scope of military ranks here.

"I came back here and everything was so different," said Airman Basic Angel Ayala, having gone to basic military training June 2017, returning from technical school in October. "I have a totally different perspective. It's a different Puerto Rico.

"Going forward, we'll do what we've trained for…supporting the community," said Col. Raymond Figueroa, commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. "The people of the communities are very grateful for what we're doing. I see our Airmen inspiring them, and they [community] look forward to our support.

"The biggest positive I see from this is how our Airmen have been able to come together, get us all moving ahead," Figueroa added.

The Airmen of the island have suffered through the hurricane as well, but one of the strengths of these service members is putting the greater good ahead of their own needs.

"Our mission right now is putting the people first and that's what we're trying to do. We have to get back to where we were," Otero said.