As the world rallied in support of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, AMAC employee Colleen had a personal reason to pray for a quick outcome. Her son Stephen was deployed to the storm-battered island in September, on a mission to begin to restore communication and provide humanitarian support to the island’s 3.4 million residents. Stephen, a West Point graduate who served two tours in Iraq, was given notice that his help was needed in the recovery efforts. For Stephen, the hardest part of the deployment isn’t the harsh conditions, long hours, or delicious military meal packets. The most difficult part of being in the military is leaving his wife, Nicole, and their two young children; son, Brycen and daughter, Alary. When they asked how long he would be gone, Stephen could only promise his children that he would be home when his job of helping people was complete. “Do good for Puerto Rico, and then come home Daddy,” his son Brycen begged. Stephen made good on that promise.
High temperatures and humidity have made the work of restoring communication to the island particularly grueling, with downed trees and power lines adding additional delays. However, his task of sharing important strategic messaging between recovery organizations was met with approval, as an increase in collaborative efforts across channels seems to be paying off. “I have truly been stretched in leading,” Stephen said.
In Fajardo, a town hit with heavy flooding, he was told to check in with the local church to find out where his services were needed most. Unsurprising to the faithful of the island, local churches have been the best source of immediate help for Puerto Ricans who are grateful for the response. During one mission, Stephen’s truck broke down. As he waited for it to be repaired, he walked to nearby houses to deliver clean water and food. One stop hit him hard, when he came upon a grandmother caring for her two young granddaughters; one of whom reminded Stephen of Alary. In an email to his family, Stephen assured them that “Los Manos de Dios este trabajas con me.” The hands of God were working with me.
Last week, the New York Times reported that more than 168,000 Puerto Ricans have migrated to US mainland since the hurricane hit, most of whom will stay with family or friends. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of islanders living in Florida has increased to more than one million since 2000. Many fled the island’s struggling economy in recent years, moving inland to Orlando, or settling on coastal cities, including Miami and Tampa. This number is expected to continue to climb in coming months, as people seek employment opportunities on the mainland.
As Puerto Rico struggles to rebuild, Stephen has completed his mission. Thankfully for his family, Stephen will be home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving. He returns with gifts for each of his children. For Brycen, he found a military coin, but it took a bit more creativity to find that something “shiny” his daughter requested. He settled on a lovely necklace.
AMAC thanks Stephen and his entire family for their service and sacrifice. We pray for the people of Puerto Rico and for our troops throughout the world. God bless America.