By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2017 — More than 11,000 Defense Department personnel now are in Puerto Rico, helping the U.S. territory recover from the wrath of Hurricane Maria in the areas of logistics, medical support and aviation, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said during a news conference in San Juan this morning.
DoD continues to expand a comprehensive island-wide commodities distribution and medical support network in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to today’s DoD update of activities in Puerto Rico.
The department’s response efforts focus on supporting FEMA priorities for distributing food and supplies, producing and distributing clean water, delivering generator fuel to hospitals, clearing roads and working on the Guajataca Dam spillway, the governor said.
DoD also is supporting the restoration of access to other essential city services, including sewage and wastewater treatment, he said.
“We have already signed a mission agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start reestablishing electrical transmission and distribution effectively in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said.
The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in Puerto Rico Oct. 3 and docked in San Juan, the governor said, noting that the ship has 250 beds and capacity for 1,000 patients. More than 500 medical personnel are on board and can serve more than 200 patients a day.
“Right now it has about 64 patients,” he added, and has received an assignment based on an assessment completed yesterday by the PR Department of Health, DoD, HHS and FEMA “to make sure that we know what the needs are in each region in Puerto Rico so we can deploy the USNS Comfort appropriately, in a route that makes sense” for all patients.
The route includes several cities, and according to the DoD response update. The Comfort is en route to one of Puerto Rico’s largest cities, Ponce, at HHS request, to better meet the island’s medical requirements.
Rossello said the ship will pick up patients in need but also will deliver necessities to the cities where it will stop, including water, food, medicine and other resources.
“The USNS Comfort can also serve as a logistical mechanism to deploy food and services across Puerto Rico,” he added.
Logistics, Medical Support
U.S. Northern Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, continues to deploy five force packages, each with enhanced logistics capacity centered on commodity distribution and medical support.
Force Package 1, for command and control, is on the ground in Puerto Rico. Force Packages 2 and 3 are sustainment/logistical units and associated command and control; elements of Force Package 2 deployed into Puerto Rico Sept. 30. More sustainment units and aviation elements deployed Oct. 1. Force Package 4 delivered helicopters Oct. 2-3, aviation command-and-control elements and medical units. Force Package 5 will provide more robust medical capacity.
Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, head of Northcom’s Joint Force Land Component Command, or JFLCC, integrated 114 recently arrived bulk fuel trucks and six propane trucks, all from the Defense Logistics Agency, into the logistical distribution plan. Buchanan is in command of DoD’s Hurricane Maria response and relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
Also part of the response, DoD has deployed a Veterans Affairs Medical Unit and is set to deploy an Army Combat Support Hospital and Expeditionary Medical Support Hospital.
The JFLCC surgeon is working with HHS, the Puerto Rico National Guard and the PR Health Department in continuing efforts to reassess and resupply hospitals across the country.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)