Puerto Rican Airman helps rebuild his community after Hurricane Fiona

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Anneliese Kaiser
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

“I was out with my wife and family celebrating my birthday, and all I could hear on the news and think about was that another hurricane hit Puerto Rico and I felt devastated.”


Hurricane Fiona made landfall September 18, 2022, and according to the Associated Press, preliminary investigations show Hurricane Fiona caused thousands of people to remain without power or water service almost two weeks after the storm hit.


“My family are very proud Puerto Ricans and they have lived there their whole lives,” said Staff Sgt. Gianfranco Pagan, 92nd Force Support Squadron, noncommissioned officer in charge of relocations. “It doesn’t matter how many hurricanes hit; they won’t leave it because it’s all they have. I will do everything to help my community because family is everything.”


Previously in 2017, Puerto Rico got hit with a category five hurricane named Maria that destroyed the San Juan Airport significantly, unfortunately, Pagan was not able to go home.


“When the hurricane in 2017 hit, the airport got destroyed and I was not able to touch Puerto Rico for like a year.” Pagan said. “No power, or anything for all those people. I was having this Déjà vu of 2017 when I couldn’t help, and I thought ‘I can’t let this happen again, I must do something.’”


With the support of Pagan’s leadership and chain of command, he was able to go help his community with disaster relief.


“I arrived in my hometown of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 25, 2022, to my old house that now had no lights [electricity],” Pagan said. “My family was very happy to see me and surprised that I made it over with barely any cell reception.”


Pagan’s family had no running water, electricity, or internet for eight days. Pagan sprang into action and drove two hours to the nearest hardware store and bought electric generators, a 500-gallon water tank, and a gas grill.


“Every day we were waking up at about 4 a.m., whenever the sun rose, we started driving around the town.” Pagan said. “We all got our machetes and started cutting trees and cleaning the roads. The roads were full of debris, big branches, rocks that slid; it was just super messy.”


Puerto Rico is a small, 5,325 square-mile island and home to three million people. For his community, Pagan donated $3,000 in total to the following nonprofit organizations: Taller Salud, La Fonda Jesus, and Fundacion Sin Limites. With the help of his father and uncles, they supplied canned food, water bottles, batteries, cleaning supplies and diesel fuel for generators.


“We came together,” Pagan said. “I was lucky that I had a Wi-Fi hotspot on my phone that I let people share so we could post to social media and raise money for supplies and let the community know where to go to pick up supplies.”


Despite power and resources being limited throughout the island, Pagan was still able to use his own resources to better assist those in need. Pagan and fellow volunteers were able to raise $8,000 to help with the disaster relief in just a matter of five days.


“I encourage others to volunteer because it will show you who you truly are,” Pagan said. “I got lucky that I chose the Air Force and they have taken care of me and my family so well and I’m very grateful.”


Although Puerto Rico is still dealing with the aftermath of Fiona, volunteer contributions continue to make a difference.