PUERTO RICO --
On Sept. 20, 2017, the third largest island in the United States was struck by the most devastating hurricane it had experienced since 1928. Four Marine Corps recruiters were among those hunkering down and preparing their homes, neighborhoods, and workspaces for the worst.
“I stayed because I wanted to be here for my future Marines and my family. My top priority was ensuring everyone was safe and sound during the Hurricane,” said Sgt. Harry RodriguezRuiz, a recruiter with Recruiting Substation (RSS) Ponce, Recruiting Station (RS) Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Though Maria left a path of destruction in its wake, the Marines rose from the rubble and demonstrated their unbreakable bond to one another and the Puerto Rican community. Each year, the Marines reach out to the youth of Puerto Rico and pose a challenge: do they have what it takes to become a United States Marine and be those with a calling to serve, becoming a part of something greater than themselves. By building trust, the Marines have developed a deep and multifaceted relationship with the people of Puerto Rico and demonstrated a desire to be a part of the communal family. Hurricane Maria further solidified these ties.
After the hurricane, the Marine families and Puerto Rican community leaned on each other for support. Lines for food and basic supplies would took several hours, stretching the relief to come. Many would wait in line for eight hours or more at their local gas station only able to walk away with $15 of gas. The people of Puerto Rico faced challenge after challenge. Phone and internet communication was lost on the island. There was hardly any way for the Marines to contact their future Marines, or anyone else located in the United States. Fortunately, the Marines established a meeting point with one another in preparation for the storm in case they were unable to connect with one another. This planning for the aftermath enabled them to quickly aid and respond to their community’s needs.
In fact, most of the Marine recruiters working on the island were born and raised in Puerto Rico. Each of them want more than anything to see the island grow and develop. Support for this endeavor stems from the Marines’ chain of command, located outside of Puerto Rico in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“From taking care of our families by issuing an evacuation plan to ensuring we had a safe place to stay and continuing schools for our children, our command made sure we were taken care of,” said Staff Sgt. Michael MaldonadoCruz, a recruiter with RSS San Juan, RS Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The recruiting substation’s headquarters, RS Fort Lauderdale, was there to support them from the initial evacuation plan to ensuring transportation in case their families needed to leave the island after the hurricane.
“[The support] reinforced that becoming a Marine was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Gunnery Sgt. Luis Manzi, recruiter with RSS San Juan, RS Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Our command was always willing to help; and we depended 100 percent on one another in order to take care of all of our families as well as the families of our future Marines.”
The Marines stationed in Puerto Rico genuinely believe in and wholeheartedly support their local community just as much as they are supported by RS Fort Lauderdale. The Corps is truly a family and the bond between every Marine is further strengthened during times of challenge. Hurricane Maria merely demonstrated the Marines’ unwavering devotion to the people of Puerto Rico and strengthened their ties with the Puerto Rican community that will be united for years to come.