The job is done for the South Carolina National Guard in Puerto Rico and now the challenge is getting home.
About 150 soldiers have been in Puerto Rico for a month assisting with relief efforts from Hurricane Maria. They have been clearing roads and re-establishing infrastructure damaged by the Category 4 storm when it hit the island on September 20.
The National Guard says the mission has been completed, but a post on its Facebook page says it is having difficulty bringing the soldiers back to South Carolina:
“We look forward to welcoming home our more than 150 Soldiers as they are now mission complete. With this in mind, we ask for patience and understanding in that as assets were pushed to multiple devastated areas on aircraft, to include the Virgin Islands and other locations, everything is now being done within the Department of Defense air transportation systems to bring all assets back to home stations as soon as possible. We understand the frustration from waiting for definitive answers, but please be assured your leaders are aware of the situation and looking at all options to get our Soldiers home”
Sgt. 1st Class Joe Cashion says damaged infrastructure in Puerto Rico has limited flights and transportation options.
“They are on standby and certainly the highest leadership in the South Carolina Guard, they are looking at everything that they can do right now, again, coordinating levels higher than them, all the way to DOD to try to get our soldiers back home as soon as possible,” he said.
“Really, logistically, it can be awfully complicated because they’re trying to get a number of different states on the ground at that little confined area there in Puerto Rico, try to get people in there, you know, get assets on the ground, get equipment there on the ground. It’s not as simple as it may seem.”
But they are making a difference improving conditions to the storm-torn nation. Last week the SC National Guard sent a Tweet that its soldiers had cleared 500 miles of roads from debris left behind by the storm.
— S.C. National Guard (@SCNationalGuard) October 30, 2017
Soldiers from five engineer units in the 59th Troop Command took chain saws with them as they departed McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover on October 1. The units set up camp at a baseball field in Caguas and worked with the Puerto Rican National Guard’s 190th Engineer Battalion to clear impassable roads of debris.
Cashion said there was no scheduled return date for the mission.
“There’s really no hard and fast date,” he said. “It’s just when the mission is complete, typically is when the mission will wrap up.”
On October 25, a SC National Guard Army Aviation team was deployed to Puerto Rico to help with logistics planning and recovery.
“Everybody, you know, the highest levels of leadership here in South Carolina, the South Carolina Guard all the way down there, is very proud of what they’ve done and look forward to welcoming them home as soon as they get here.”
Cashion said the National Guard leadership could attempt to charter a commercial flight to bring the troops back to South Carolina. He says the guard is hopeful the engineers will be back home by this weekend.