By Mathew R. Maxey
ALASKA — On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma struck the U.S. Virgin Islands; and just two weeks later, on September 20, Hurricane Maria battered the islands as well. Within days, resources and personnel were sent to help rebuild and recover from the devastation. The Forest Service sent Law Enforcement Officers and specialists as first responders to help. Unfortunately, there was still a sustained need for more aid. The Alaska Department of Military and Veteran Affairs was asked and responded by sending troops from the 1-297 Infantry Battalion’s Forward Support Company to provide logistical and maintenance expertise and resources. More soldiers volunteered than there were spots available. As an infantry officer, I was willing and one of many soldiers eager to help in any way possible. In total 54 soldiers left their homes in Alaska to support their fellow Americans in the Virgin Islands.
The initial mission of the FSC was to repair Virgin Island National Guard vehicles and equipment and sustainment operations including distribution of goods, materials, and fuel. I was assigned as the headquarters element as platoon leader, which included the operations command personnel and the Quick Reaction Force that consisted of the volunteers and soldiers with skills ranging from infantrymen, paralegal specialists, cooks, radio operators, and medics to name a few. We were designated with accomplishing all the other assigned tasks that fell outside the FSC’s specialty. As soon as we hit the ground, we were immediately tasked with cleanup missions and other non-logistic tasks. The day we arrived we began to clean a community park in downtown Frederiksted, St. Croix. Within hours of finishing our clean up, families began playing and using the facilities. Along with my platoon, I participated in many cleanups at local parks, beaches, cemeteries, and schools. We provided 24-hour security for several days at facilities whose own security systems or fences were destroyed by the hurricanes. We also helped provide personnel and vehicles to the American Red Cross for their relief and aid efforts distributing tarps, water, food, and bedding.
Everywhere we went we worked with the local citizens of the communities and they constantly thanked us and reminded us why we left our homes to help others.
Our 30 day mission concluded with our participation in the Veterans Day parade through Frederiksted. We did a lot of great work in that month and I am grateful that I had the opportunity, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. I hope the recovery of the Virgin Islands maintains the high level of morale and good spirits that we experienced in our time there and I hope more great people continue to work together to rebuild this wonderful part of the United States.
Mathew R. Maxey is a Fisheries Biologist with Chugach National Forest. Maxey also serves as 2LT, Platoon Leader, A Co. 1-297 IN, in the Alaska Army National Guard.