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Airman aids secluded village in Puerto Rico mountains

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – Senior Airman Ian Boutwell’s mission as a vehicle maintainer was to repair material-handling equipment that kept a rotation of food and water going to the people of Puerto Rico, but when a local reached out about a village cut off from the supply line, the Airman donned a pack of supplies and marched toward those devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Boutwell, 22nd Logistic Readiness Squadron material-handling equipment journeyman, and a few other Airmen rucked up a mountain for seven hours with food, water and other necessities. The weight of their packs lightened after they reached their destination and began to pass out supplies to those effected by the storm.

Boutwell deployed last minute for a total of 37 days during October and November, 2017, to San Juan, Ponce and Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, to integrate with the Puerto Rico State Guard and the U.S. National Guard.

“It was crazy to see,” Boutwell said. “We had to park next to the bridge that used to be there, and when you looked at it, it looked like a normal concrete bridge, but the middle of it was down the road. The [hurricane] hit so hard, and that had been the only way vehicles could get in and out of the area.”

As they climbed the mountain, they came across small homes with tarped roofs and people living in rough conditions. Most of the houses included one person or a small family of three. Boutwell said that there were approximately 40 people found in the area.

“A lot of them spoke English,” said Boutwell. “When we brought them food and supplies, they were really thankful for just the small amount we gave them. It was just enough to get by, but they were just thankful to see help. It wasn’t necessarily about just getting the supplies, but seeing that people were helping.”

Boutwell repaired multiple vehicles during his deployment, and when he was able to, he took chances to give glimpses of hope to the Puerto Ricans who were in need of support.

“Senior Airman Boutwell was the only qualified material-handling equipment journeyman [at McConnell],” said Timmy Hiser, 22nd LRS vehicle management superintendent. “This career field specializes on forklift and aircraft cargo loader maintenance, but he is qualified to work on various types of equipment.”

At first, Boutwell was nervous about arriving in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck, but after beginning his mission, he experienced the people’s appreciation toward what he was doing for them, especially the secluded village they helped. After the Airmen helped them, the villagers were finally on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s radar and continued to receive supplies from FEMA after the Airmen left.

“You never know until you’re in it how devastating a natural storm like [Hurricane Maria] can be,” Boutwell said. “It was definitely an eye opener and something I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life.”