Soldiers from the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command headquarters at Fort Bragg have been sent to Puerto Rico to help speed up relief work on the storm-torn island, and more will go in coming days.
In addition, Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday authorized sending 200 N.C. National Guard engineers to help.
The soldiers will work with U.S. Army North, based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, which is coordinating U.S. military efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both were severely battered by hurricanes in recent weeks.
The military says Army North will support the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local governments. Defense support of civil authorities is one of Army North’s core missions, according to its Facebook page. The 3rd ESC also supported relief efforts after storms in Texas and Florida.
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Fort Bragg also sent eight helicopters to help in Puerto Rico earlier this week.
In a release on Friday, the Army said 15 soldiers left Tuesday to evaluate conditions on the island and determine where the military can stage its long-term relief efforts. Additional soldiers are scheduled to deploy soon, the release said.
The ESC’s headquarters command, consisting of more then 40 soldiers, will synchronize the work of supporting military forces used to help with the recovery effort.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Hurricane Maria,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher O. Mohan, commanding general of the 3rd ESC. “We are proud to use our skills and equipment for this mission, to help the people of Puerto Rico for as long as we are needed.”
Supporting those efforts will be 200 members of the N.C. National Guard’s 105th Engineer Battalion, based in Raeford. The unit, nicknamed “Task Force Rhino,” will send an advance team to Puerto Rico this weekend, with the rest of the unit following next week.
A release from the N.C. National Guard said the troops are expected to be in Puerto Rico for 30 days “but are prepared to be there longer if required.”
Puerto Rico requested the assistance, which is required before troops are sent.
“When our state was devastated with severe flooding during Hurricane Matthew last year, many states came to our assistance in our time of need,” Cooper said in the release. “Now it’s our turn to provide aid to fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.”
The 105th will head up a multi-state engineering task force consisting of 750 National Guard soldiers from South Carolina, Louisiana and New York.
“These … engineers are no strangers to disaster recovery missions, having deployed to South Carolina in 2015 to aid in severe flooding recovery, Hurricane Matthew last year, and supported debris removal missions this month in western North Carolina from the effects of Hurricane Irma,” said Col. Tim Aiken, a guard spokesman.
Much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane Maria, which battered homes, businesses, government buildings and roads, and took out the island’s power grid.
The battalion will help clear debris from roads and make hasty road and infrastructure repairs to allow aid to reach areas cut off by the storm.