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Posted: December 1, 2017 10:21 a.m.
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Maria relief returns home to Hunter

Courtesy Photo/

Following a six-month Hurricane Maria assistance deployment to Puerto Rico, Sgt. Joshua Bonilla, a flight engineer with Company B, 1-169 Aviation, is welcomed home by Staff Sgt. Sean Combs, a crew chief from his unit. He and 11 other Army National Guardsmen from Hunter Army Airfield provided disaster relief following destruction on the U.S. Territory by Hurricane Maria.

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Steve Hart

Hunter Army Airfield Public Affairs


Completing a six-week Hurricane Maria assistance deployment to Puerto Rico, 12 Soldiers in two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from Company B, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment from the Georgia Army National Guard were welcomed home upon their return to Hunter Army Airfield, Nov. 20. 

Among the projects the unit supported were transporting 50 towers to support power lines designed to help restore electricity to the people in the territory.  The aircraft also used its heavy-lift capabilities to sling-load 2,000-pound “super sand bags” to help reinforce the base of the Guajataca Dam; which was weakened by Hurricane Irma and Maria. 

“Puerto Rico does not have aviation assets with a heavy capacity to carry need items to remote areas,” said Chief Warrant Officer Four Mark Morris, a pilot.  “We were carrying four super sand bags at 8,000 pounds at a time when we first got there and then learned that we could carry twice the amount if we set out with less fuel.  This was huge as it allowed us to make a bigger impact more quickly.”   

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 40 percent of Puerto Ricans didn’t have clean water when the 1-169 Aviation arrived.  The damage to the Guajataca Dam, located in Northwest Puerto Rico, threatened the water supply to an additional 350,000 Puerto Ricans.  Residents in the area were also advised to evacuate as a precaution for if the dam would collapse.  

In concert with efforts from the Army Corps of Engineers to reinforce the dam, helicopters from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corp and Army National Guard provided concrete barriers and the enormous sand bags to help avoid future disasters. 

 The Soldiers were proud of their accomplishments during the deployment.

“It was gratifying getting resources to the people,” Morris said.  “About eight days after we finished that project, we went out to a few places and saw that the water had been turned back on.”

“It was great to be able to help somebody in need,” said Sgt. Jimmy Warren, a squad leader in the unit that deployed from Hunter on Oct. 6.  “The people were appreciative and would even line the highways where we would deliver the towers to wave, take pictures and say thank you to us.”

 The unit was slated to be gone for 30 days until the Governor of Puerto Rico asked the unit to be extended an additional two weeks, Morris said.

“We were glad to stay to continue to assist.  This was one of the more gratifying missions in my career.”   

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