U.S. Northern Command has been fully engaged in hurricane response efforts since before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, through Hurricane Irma, and remains engaged today with Hurricane Maria. Since Maria made landfall, the Department of Defense has employed a vast array of capabilities in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
DoD has deployed more than 8,000 active-duty service members in support of relief efforts for Hurricane Maria. In contrast, DoD deployed approximately 2,700 active-duty service members in total in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that struck Texas and Florida, respectively.
USNORTHCOM first supported Puerto Rico relief efforts via U.S. Navy Sailors and Marines representing over 30 commands embarked on the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS Wasp (LHD 1) and USS Oak Hill (LSD 51). To date, Kearsarge, Oak Hill and Wasp have conducted 88 medical evacuations, flown more than 960 hours of DSCA flight operations, and transported more than 3 million pounds of relief supplies and cargo. USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) has treated more than 130 patients, many of them requiring critical care, and continues to provide logistical and medical support around Puerto Rico.
On Sept. 28, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, USNORTHCOM’s Joint Force Land Component Commander, deployed to Puerto Rico to begin the DoD transition from a short-term, sea-based response to a longer-term, land-based response effort.
Since response operations began, DoD completed more than 1,600 air missions in support of Hurricane Maria compared to 800 for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma combined. Through these strategic airlift missions in Puerto Rico, DoD has transported approximately 9 million meals, 10 million liters of water, 3 million gallons of potable water, 2 million gallons of fuel, 270 generators and 50 helicopters, in addition to other relief supplies and units in support of FEMA and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
DoD’s Defense Logistics Agency has continuously supported FEMA Mission Assignments providing more than 1 million gallons of fuel, more than 700 generators, 500,000 plastic water jugs, 75 million Shelf Stable meals, 12 million Meals Ready to Eat, 10 million liters of water and 10 Water Tank Trucks.
In support of the Puerto Rico medical plan coordinated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, DoD has deployed the U.S. Army 14th Combat Surgical Hospital, which is now fully operational in Humacao and providing land-based patient care. In addition, Air Forces Northern deployed an Expeditionary Medical Support team Friday to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, to provide Department of Defense medical care capabilities that include over 100 personnel, 25 beds with inpatient, outpatient and surgical capabilities, and can support over 300 patients a day. Also, the 285th and 335th Area Medical Support Companies are providing medical support in Puerto Rico. These medical companies are capable of providing medical support such as trauma healthcare, preventive medicine consultation, optometry support and ground evacuation of patients.
Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, together with U.S. Navy Seabees from Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 and Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202, continue route clearance efforts to open up roadways into the interior of Puerto Rico to aid in the flow of commodity distribution. Additionally, the Marines and Seabees are cutting fallen trees and removing debris from recent landslides. DoD engineering teams are removing debris, restoring culverts, repairing bridges and making primary and secondary roadways drivable. And, while more than DoD is working this mission area, to date, nearly half of all roads are cleared and open, and more than 90 percent of all bridges are approved for use.
As with any natural or manmade disaster, DoD stands ready to support our citizens in their time of need and will remain engaged in the affected areas until we are no longer needed.