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“Force of 50” Volunteers’ Puerto Rico Hurricane Recovery Mission Ends


The 22 “Force of 50” radio amateurs who deployed to Puerto Rico earlier this month as American Red Cross volunteers have ended their mission and will be back on the US mainland by week’s end. They had been in Puerto Rico for about 3 weeks.

“The Force of 50 volunteers demonstrated an extraordinary range of skills possessed by this accomplished team,” said ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher, NY2RF. “There was no task that they wouldn’t tackle. It also demonstrated the generosity of these volunteers, who not only performed their roles as communicators, but also engaged the population with their many acts of personal kindness.”

Val Hotzfeld, NV9L, who filed situation reports documenting the team’s activities, said the volunteers accomplished everything they went to Puerto Rico to do, “and then some.” She said that the Red Cross felt they had exceeded all expectations.

“We opened a lot of peoples’ eyes when we started going to the ESF-2 communications task force meetings. They had no idea of our capabilities,” Hotzfeld told ARRL. “When they heard what we’d accomplished, we were swarmed; everybody was wanting us.”

Hotzfeld said the volunteers’ initial mission was to provide a way to gather outbound health and welfare messages and put them into the Red Cross’s Safe and Well System using Winlink. However, the mission changed once they were on the ground when they discovered the needs were much greater.

“No one had any communications, so the mission morphed to communications,” she said. “But, we did both.” She said the Red Cross recognized the value of ensuring communication for hospitals, and other volunteers handled Safe and Well messages.

She said the volunteers possessed a wide range of talents, from medical to mechanical, not just communications. For example, Andy Anderson, KE0AYJ, set up the helicopter landing pad at Guajataca Dam, Hotzfeld said, and provided communications where there was none.

Ten SHARES (Shared Resources) HF Radio Program operators will replace the Amateur Radio volunteers who had worked on behalf of the Red Cross. These SHARES operators are federal employees who happen to be radio amateurs and volunteered for the duty in Puerto Rico. Hotzfeld said they will be stationed in four different zones, with two operators at headquarters in the San Juan Convention Center. “The hospitals did not want us to leave,” Hotzfeld said. “They were begging us to stay.” She noted, though, that the hospitals also have access to satellite telephones.

“I was so proud of our guys,” Hotzfeld said in summary. “They were rock stars.”




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