When Wilmington District electrical engineer Wilmarie Pagan first arrived in her home country of Puerto Rico during her deployment nearly a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, she couldn’t believe how much destruction was still clearly visible. Along with the destruction she saw many homeless people whose faces were filled with anguish and despair.
When I arrived on the island, at that moment I thought about the difference between when I lived there and now,” Pagan said. “It is sad to see beautiful places full of debris, to see how much the environment suffered in this event, and especially the homes of the families. But in spite of that being part of my island I tried every day to give my best, and give even more than what I could give, learning everything to know about the projects and thus be able to plant a grain of sand in the land where I grew up.”
Pagan, a Department of the Army intern working in the design section, had the opportunity for a one-month rotation and decided to work in the Antilles Office in Puerto Rico for work experience and because she wanted to contribute to getting the island’s infrastructure up and running again.
“The first phase for civil projects was to remove electrical poles and lines that had distributed energy to the town of Dorado,” she explained. “Also, in the military area I helped to inspect a project where the new entry of Fort Buchanan was being renovated. I was involved in inspecting the temporary connection of the guard house and the illumination of the area.”
After civil-type projects, Pagan also worked on construction teams. She gained insight about the devastating effects of hurricane-force winds and how much or how little structures can withstand them.
“Every day we inspected numerous projects and made sure everything was going well. I saw such projects as channeling rivers to reduce flooding, repairs to the spillway of the Guajataca Dam, repairs of military buildings, and new dikes that will reduce future flooding,” she said.
Pagan said that she could personally relate to how Puerto Rico’s badly damaged infrastructure affected tens of thousands of people. Her own family in Puerto Rico had no damage to their home, but they had to learn to live without power for five months. But overall, she said that her deployment was well worth it, and that she gained a lot personally.
“I learned that together as a team we can get a lot accomplished,” she said. “It is interesting to see the outcome of a group that shares its knowledge by providing ideas and sharing that knowledge with others. It is impressive how a human being can be willing to help unconditionally for those who need it.”