219th airmen returned from hurricane relief mission in Puerto Rico

When airmen from the 219th RED HORSE Squadron of the Montana Air National Guard landed in Puerto Rico in October, they could still see the devastation left the previous month by Hurricane Maria.

Power lines were still down and “you could see it was pretty beat up,” said Senior Airman Tyler Gandolfi.

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He and other 219th airmen set up two Disaster Relief Bed-down Set, DRBS, kits, each in a different location. The kit can provide simple housing and other services for up to 150 people per DRBS. They also set up laundry, restrooms, generators and other basic necessities.

219th RED HORSE headed to Puerto Rico to support Hurricane Maria relief efforts

It was the first humanitarian mission for Gandolfi and his fellow airmen Airman 1st Class Collin Sullivan and Senior Airman Micah Chambers.

The 219th was in Puerto Rico for 30 days setting up the DRBS kits so that the local Army National Guard and other relief workers could have a place to sleep and wash up.

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“They were very helpful and very thankful,” Gandolfi said. “It’s nice to know that they’re thankful for us to be down there.”

Gandolfi said that since he’s a plumber, he hasn’t usually been involved in setting up the tents but it was good experience to gain those skills.

“I joined to travel the world and go help people,” Sullivan said.

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The experience in Puerto Rico and missions to Slovenia and Israel reminded him to be thankful for the way things are here in Montana after seeing “people be really thankful for the littlest things.”

Chambers said the relief workers were washing clothes in buckets until they arrived to set up the DRBS kits.

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“Why wouldn’t we go? This is why we joined the Guard,” Chambers said. “Our job is to help those who need help.”

The 26 members of the 219th joined with other Guard units in Puerto Rico and spent the month of October setting up the DRBS kits. It rained most of the days they were there and the temperature was 70-90 degrees, Chambers said.

Chambers has experienced hurricane destruction in the past, but “this was by far the worst devastation I’ve seen.”

Windows were blown out, debris was still in the streets, and most locals didn’t have power or running water.

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It looked like a “forest of popsicle sticks,” he said, since the leaves were blown off the tops of most trees.

In addition to supporting those affected by the hurricane and the relief workers, it’s also a training experience for the airmen.

Chambers said that operating in the desert is different from a rainy, humid environment so they could experience dealing with those conditions.

“With every exercise, you’re going to learn some new things,” he said.