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Cadets Continue Mission in Puerto Rico

By Army Sgt. Avery Cunningham, 65th Press Camp Headquarters

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Nov. 1, 2017 — Army ROTC cadets from the University of Puerto Rico returned to classes here yesterday. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, some cadets used their skills to bolster the Army Reserve and National Guard from within their units.

An Army ROTC instructor arrives on the University of Puerto Rico campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
An Army ROTC instructor arrives on the University of Puerto Rico campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as cadets return to class for the first time since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Oct. 31, 2017. Army photo by Sgt. Avery Cunningham
An Army ROTC instructor arrives on the University of Puerto Rico campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Instructor Walks
An Army ROTC instructor arrives on the University of Puerto Rico campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as cadets return to class for the first time since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Oct. 31, 2017. Army photo by Sgt. Avery Cunningham

“They offered me the chance to go to the states to continue my education in a different ROTC program, but I said I’m not going to leave [Puerto Rico], I’m going to stay and help as much as I can,” said Army Cadet Rafael Rivera, assigned to the Puerto Rico National Guard’s 480th Military Police Company.

Rivera’s unit deployed within a week of the hurricane.

“We were called to go to Fort Buchanan, and we were doing search and rescue missions,” Rivera said. “From there we started getting food and supplies to people. Our missions changed to convoy escort for gas and then security for gas stations.”

Living Army Values

Army ROTC builds character by developing leadership skills while students complete their civilian education. The Army instills its core values into cadets: leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Cadets demonstrated those values throughout recovery operations after the storm.

“The first week we didn’t have power, water, and food was limited. But you still had to work. You have to put your country and people first. You’re tired, but you have to keep going,” Rivera said. “First thing was getting food and water for my guys’ families so they weren’t worried and could work.”

Puerto Rico is still recovering. The University of Puerto Rico closed twice -- for Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria. The school is overcoming challenges, such as damaged buildings and limited power as classes begin. The campus experienced flooding, broken windows, downed trees and mold growth.

“There was a day the cadets went to [the campus], and we cleaned up the trees and all the things that were destroyed by the hurricane,” Rivera said. "It was good to see other cadets that I didn’t see and catch up with them.”

Now -- a few days later -- light streamed into the classroom where only a few open windows offered light breezes as refuge from the heat. Pencils danced across notebooks, and the projector whirred. The cadets remain focused despite challenges presented following the storm.  “The cadets are performing well,” said Army Capt. Ivan Fuentes, an assistant professor of military science and leadership. “Some of the cadets were activated with their National Guard and reserve units, but they have been given the opportunity to continue with their studies while they are activated.”

The cadets are still ready to train, though there are minimal utilities.

“It will be more hands-on because there is no electricity or internet access,” Rivera said. “As a leader you have to adapt to new things.”

“It’s been hard, though,” he said. “We were saying how hard it is to be a survivor after Hurricane Irma, but after Maria hit, now we’re the survivors.”