WADS Airman supports Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kimberly D. Burke, Western Air Defense Sector Public Affairs

A Washington Air National Guardsman assigned to the Western Air Defense Sector deployed in his civilian job capacity using his military training expertise to support Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico during the first two weeks of October.




Richard Dessert, who is a master sergeant at WADS, has 14 years of information technology experience as a cyber transports craftsman but currently serves as the WADS training manager.  In his civilian career, Dessert is an IT infrastructure team manager for one of the largest global Christian humanitarian organizations, World Vision.


According to Dessert, typically his U.S. based team “doesn't deploy in support of relief efforts because World Vision has an international team specifically for rapid response disaster relief.”  

Due to the manpower intensive relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, the international team was stretched too thin and Dessert’s team was asked to volunteer to provide IT assistance in Puerto Rico. 


“I jumped at the opportunity and I used my military training and combat operations experience to analyze the situation and determine the type of equipment we needed to keep connected in this type of environment," Dessert said.  "Within 48 hours, I sourced the needed communications equipment [satellite phones and data terminals] and established service contracts so I could deploy with the team and provide the needed comms.” 


While approaching the island by air via a donated private jet, he explained that the devastation was clearly visible. 

 “A once green island was very brown as the vegetation had been destroyed, and buildings and homes were clearly damaged or destroyed,"  he said.

"The damage was stunning and I hadn't seen anything like it before.  My mission was to survey the damage, identify target communities for aid, and establish relationships with local churches in our target areas so we could empower and mobilize them to aid their communities.”


Dessert’s small team of six helped established relationships with the mayor of Utuado and received permission to obtain food kits and water from the National Guard distribution point in town and distribute to people in need. 


The church in Utuado become a relief hub for the surrounding communities, most of which were in mountainous terrain, and some had been cut off from civilization due to roads which had been washed out by mudslides, Dessert said. 


Dessert’s team funneled supplies into the church which were sourced locally and remotely (food, water, diapers and wipes, tarps and nails, hygiene and medicines).  

“Initially, we travelled with them into the mountains around Utuado to deliver aid," he said.  "I drove a vehicle, to say it was nerve wracking is a major understatement.” 


One of the things that most impressed him during his time in Puerto Rico was the willingness and desire of the people at the church in Utuado to help the people around them that needed it the most considering many of them were in a similar situation with their homes being damaged or destroyed. 


Even though Dessert was initially deployed to provide IT support, he spent most of his time in a field operations capacity where he used his military training and skills of using situational awareness, vigilance, security awareness, and calculated risk taking to ensure his team’s success. 


What made this deployment a rewarding experience for Dessert was the knowledge that he was making a difference in the lives of the Puerto Rican people and he explained that he was “very thankful for the opportunity.”