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Airman provides hurricane assistance to Puerto Rico

MUŇIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico – Lt. Col Frederick Brooks, 156th Civil Engineer Squadron element chief, works on the reconstruction of Muňiz Air National Guard Base in October, 2017. Muňiz ANGB was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, Sept. 20, 2017. (Courtesy photo)

MUŇIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico – Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, struck Muňiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico Sept. 20, 2017. According to the National Hurricane Center Maria was considered the 10-th most intense Atlantic hurricane and the most tropical cyclone worldwide in 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Frederick Brooks)

MUŇIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico – Luis Muňoz Marin International Airport near Muňiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico in October, 2017. The airport, shared with Muňiz ANGB, was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Frederick Brooks)

MUŇIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico – Lt. Col. Frederick Brooks, 156th Civil Engineer Squadron element chief and other Airmen work on a roof at Muňiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico, in October, 2017. The roof was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that struck Sept. 20, 2017. (Courtesy photo)

MUŇIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico – Roof damage on Muňiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico in October, 2017. The roof was blown off by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Frederick Brooks)

MUŇIZ AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Puerto Rico – Building damage on Muňiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico in October, 2017. The building was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Frederick Brooks)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 64 miles per hour and gusts of 113 mph, hit Muniz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico Sept. 20, 2017, causing widespread damage. Recovery help was desperately needed.

On Oct. 22, 2017, Frederick Brooks, 21st Space Wing Civil Engineer Squadron, interim base civil engineer, was requested by the National Guard Bureau to provide assistance. Brooks, a Lieutenant Colonel with the 156th CES Air National Guard Unit, commanded 145 Airmen as they set out with rescue and relief efforts to rebuild Muniz ANGB.

Hurricane Maria was considered the 10th-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record and the most intense tropical cyclone worldwide in 2017, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“We went there to assist in the rebuilding of Muniz ANGB after Maria struck,” said Brooks. “They needed our help with fixing roofs and removing excessive mold.”

Brooks was authorized to fulfill all required duties and responsibilities of the Base Civil Engineer position to include studies to restore Muniz ANGB, the planning and reconstruction of the base, and the advisement to commanders and government officials on the effective use of 156th CES resources.

“We completed 27 projects valued at $6.1 million dollars,” Brooks said. “Most were roofing projects but we had to repair fences that had been blown down and security lights and cameras needed to be fixed. Our repair work was done Nov. 22 and I was able to make it home for Thanksgiving.”

Most of the Airmen living off base weren’t able to make it home because they had no power or water so the 156th CES provided a Disaster Relief Bed Down System, a series of tents, on base where everybody stayed and worked seven days a week.

The Airmen assigned to Muniz ANGB were tired, added Brooks. They had been working non-stop for roughly six weeks restoring the base after the storm hit.

“The tents were equipped with washing machine and dryers,” said Brooks. “They also set up temporary military-style kitchens to provide meals. Every day was like Groundhog Day for breakfast.”

Brooks had never worked with hurricane relief before. The worst he had ever worked was in Boulder, Colorado, for bridge inspections after the Colorado Front Range Flood in 2013.

“I worked with the Department of Transportation and helped inspect 30 bridges so they could be re-opened to the public all while wearing a military working hat,” Brooks said.

The hurricane blew the roofs off the buildings in Muniz ANGB where there’s an afternoon rain shower nearly every day and rain getting inside the buildings caused extensive moss over time, said Brooks.

“Because of this we had to go in the buildings and remove the ceiling tiles, which are great for growing mold,” Brooks said. “We had to use blue Federal Emergency Management Agency protection tarps to cover the roofs and prevent water from getting inside the buildings.”

During the restoration prime power was consistently turning off and on so generators had to be brought in to provide back-up power.

“My team would have to go around the base and manually start all the generators to get them to turn over to prime power,” said Brooks. “When prime power came back on we would have to manually shut the generators down,” said Brooks. “Because of this we had to have a team ready 24/7.

Brooks estimates that by the time he had left 60 percent of Muniz ANGB had been restored and the base was fully functional.

“Going to Muniz ANGB was a different mindset because the Airmen there didn’t appear to know what to do,” said Brooks. “Being able to spur energy into them with our insight and call to action was a game changer for them.”

“This was one of the biggest opportunities of my life. It was so gratifying and we worked so hard,” Brooks said. “I think we helped make a difference.”