15:20 PM

Tenn. Wing Member Devotes 'Hard ... Very Satisfying' Week to Puerto Rico Hurricane Damage Mission

Maj. Larry Stewart
Public Affairs Officer
Group II
Tennessee Wing

Capt. W. Deming Gray, Tennessee Wing Group II commander, has returned from a challenging but rewarding week taking damage assessment photos in Puerto Rico in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Gray, a professional photographer, was asked to fly to Puerto Rico last week. When he reported to the incident commander in San Juan, fellow Tennessee Wing member Lt. Col. Ande Boyer, he found the command post based in a closet at a local hospital.

There wasn’t a lot of room, Gray said, but everyone was thankful for electricity, air conditioning and internet access, especially considering that 84 percent of the island is still reported to lack power.

“We awoke at 5 a.m. and got to work as soon as we could,” he said. “At the end of a long day, we returned to our rooms and crashed.”

Gray was one of 10 Tennessee Wing members who took thousands of photographs as requested by the Federal Emergency Response Agency. The agency had requested Civil Air Patrol flights over Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands to photograph and assess storm damage to structures and infrastructure, search for individuals and communities in need of help and monitor situations that might lead to additional loss of life or property.

The aircrew was also tasked daily to photograph Puerto Rico’s dams, given the possibility of potential dam failure – which continues to be an immediate concern. During his stint in Puerto Rico, Gray spent about 30 hours aloft – a lot of time in a small aircraft. He served as mission pilot for all but two flights, one spent in the CAP Cessna’s back seat as mission scanner and photographer, the other in the role of mission observer, tasked to assist the pilot from the right front seat.

“Everywhere we flew, we saw horrific damage from the fierce winds of Hurricane Maria,” Gray said. “On all the islands, we saw power lines down everywhere. We saw many power-line towers down, which means extensive work required just to restore electrical power. The damage done to houses and buildings on the islands was extensive.”

“On one sortie we identified one small town that was completely isolated, due to a bridge being washed out on one end of town and a mudslide covering the road on the other,” he added. “We found folks who had painted messages on roofs and parking lots, requesting food, water or other immediate needs.”

Gray said, “This was a real team effort in Puerto Rico. We had CAP members from Tennessee, Alabama and Puerto Rico serving with us. Additionally, we utilized CAP members stateside to help form a virtual incident command post.

“We were not alone in Puerto Rico. CAP members everywhere were willing and able to assist us as needed. We had five aircraft that we tasked daily to conduct photographic reconnaissance of the island.”

In addition, he said, “there were three different times during the week, talking to people around the area or in the hotel’s elevator, when FEMA or military officials recognized my CAP uniform and expressed extreme gratitude for the work that Civil Air Patrol was accomplishing.”

“It makes you realize that all the training we have done can actually be put to work,” Gray said, “and we can deliver a service and product that has real value.

“It was very satisfying,” he concluded. “It was a hard week, but I’m so glad that I went, and I felt privileged to have the opportunity to serve our country in this way.”