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Posted 11/29/2017

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(This is the second article in a five-part series on Puerto Rico, the people who came to support the response and recovery, and their homecoming.

Maj. Eduardo Rodriguez is not related to Patricia of the previous article. He represents the close coordination between non-USACE active duty military members participating in the response and recovery with the USACE military and civilian responders.)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Homecoming is an American fall tradition, full of festivities, excitement and reunions. For several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees originally from Puerto Rico, homecoming has been a different experience this year.

Ponce is a major seaport on Puerto Rico's Caribbean Sea southern coast. Mountains that run east to west make the terrain arid and sparsely vegetated in stark contrast to the island's lushly forested north side. Maj. Eduardo Rodríguez works there as a logistician for U.S. Army South.

Rodríguez arrived Oct. 16 from his job as an operations officer at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up in the Bayaney neighborhood of Hatillo.

"I was surprised," he said when asked to describe his initial impressions upon returning to the island after an eight-year absence. "Seeing the devastation from the hurricane was a difficult experience."
His job is "monitoring acquisitions of real estate and coordinating support."

What that means this day is keeping an inventory of every piece of power restoration equipment being offloaded from USNS Brittin, a 950-foot Bob Hope-class roll-on/roll-off vehicle cargo ship of the U.S. Navy.

Rolling stock, basically vehicles with wheels, drives slowly down the ramp at the ship's stern. Bucket trucks, portable construction light trailers, diggers, programmable road construction signs and lowboys carrying bobcats and generators form a line for inventory. Rows of helicopters, Humvees and other military equipment sit in lines on the tarmac nearby waiting to be loaded onboard for transfer back to the States.

"It's a monumental task, especially considering the impact." Rodríguez says of the recovery. "Not just the homes devastated by the hurricane, but the routes and the effects on access."

Rodríguez said it is rewarding to be part of the coordinated effort to bring electricity back to the island.

"The effort and support from fellow Americans has been unsurpassed, unmatched," he said. "Seeing how much everybody cares. How big an effort it is and the sacrifices people are making."

"Speaking not only for myself, but on behalf of my family, and many others, everybody is thankful," he said.

Rodríguez said it is difficult to compare the Hurricane Maria response to others he's experienced.
"Puerto Ricans will take time to recover," Rodríguez said. "We'll face the challenge and move on."

Hurricane Maria puerto rico VIPR