Oath Keepers Update From the Ground Puerto Rico: Same Sh*# Different Disaster – Just Like Texas & Florida, Poor Communities Neglected
Stewart Rhodes, reporting from the ground in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico:
We’ve been here on the ground in Puerto Rico since last Sunday, Oct 1 and have only now been able to get online (we were able to send out one short message on Facebook from the Aguadilla Airport staff’s computer on Monday, but that was it till now). Today we found one local business that now has wifi, but power is still out nearly everywhere in P.R. including where we are staying. But the people are getting some clean water from natural springs and wells (even the National Guard is using these springs to fill up their water trucks to then take to areas without springs).
The lack of power, internet, and bad phone connections really hampers relief and rebuilding. However, the people of Puerto Rico are strong, tough, and resilient, and above all they are very positive and light-hearted people (as most island people are around the world) and they roll with the punches in superb style. We have talked to and interacted with hundreds of locals as we reach out into the barrios on the coast that were hit with surge flooding and into the remote mountain communities that are still trying to dig out from landslides and we have not had one negative interaction. All are friendly, helpful, and grateful for our help.
They are very grateful to see Americans from the Continental U.S. here to help, and especially grateful to see military and police veterans taking the time to come to Puerto Rico to lend a hand. We have had excellent liaison, rapport and mutual assistance with local LEOs and with the National Guard here (most of whom are from Puerto Rico but many of whom have also lived in the states). All are awesome people doing great work. When a plane load of food we were waiting on was delayed, a National Guard unit gave us ten cases of MREs out of their own supply, as well as five cases of water, so we could hand them out to people in need. Behind them was a massive pile of supplies that they informed us were FEMA controlled, and they could not touch it, so instead they gave us their own MREs to give out to people. We had the same experience in Texas during Harvey, and again in Florida during the aftermath of Irma – the National Guard is awesome and are happy to work with us and to help us. Frankly, FEMA and the Red Cross should just turn their stuff over to the National Guard, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the USMC, and to the Army Corps of Engineers and just let them get it done. Stay out of their way.
What We Did Today: Adopting a Hospital, Delivering Water
Together with Third Wave Volunteers (Dr. Alison Thompson), we received a plane-load of 26 pallets of desperately needed bottled water for distribution to the Northwest Puerto Rico. The local Puerto Rican National Guard and the US Air Force were very helpful in securing our shipment as well as some of the initial transportation thereof. We distributed one truckload of water to Aguadilla Hospital as well a local neighborhood. The hospital is in desperate condition with minimal emergency power which means no air conditioning or de-humidification, which means the air temperature is 90-95 degrees in the ICU, and this means that lung patients can’t breathe, bacterial infection is imminent because it is a perfect environment for bacteria (as well as viruses – a perfect petri dish). The elderly and children are especially at risk because they don’t regulate temperature as well as healthy and strong adults. Scott Dunn, our retired trauma ER nurse described it as “unsustainable, with an extremely high risk of infection and resulting death.” He added that any patient with breathing difficulty (children with asthma, elderly, etc.) will not be able to remain in that environment without fatalities. In addition, the pediatric/labor and delivery unit must also be cool and dry.
This is unsatisfactory and must be fixed, and we will fix it. Our Army Ranger veteran, Ivan Chaplinsky just happens to be a Boilermaker who builds and maintains power-plants, and he sat down with the Board of the Hospital and laid out their options for fixing this problem. Tomorrow, Scott Dunn and Dr. Thompson will assess the hospital and determine if it is salvageable or if it must be evacuated. Then Ivan, along with Army Combat Engineer Brian Carruthers (who is flying in at 11am in the morning) will dive into finding the right solution to ensure that those patients end up in air-conditioned rooms, one way or another. We will work with the local military officers we met today, as they most assuredly will be able to cut through red tape and get us what we need to fix this situation.
We agree with Dr. Thompson that we (both Third Wave Volunteers and Oath Keepers) will adopt the Aguadilla Hospital and get those patients into the right environment, they need to be in, cool and dry. And since there is no such thing as 911 without phone lines, we will also offer to provide security for the hospital. We will do a security assessment of the hospital and how to fix any deficiencies.
Without functioning hospitals, everything else falls apart and people die. We will fix this problem and we won’t wait for FEMA to do it.
Also, the dam that services water to five North Western Puerto Rican cities can no longer supply water, due to damaged infrastructure. We will run an assessment of that problem and attempt to find a solution. Our standard MO is to go find out what is wrong and then find a way, one way or another, to fix it.
Meanwhile, this is why portable water purification systems that the people can use themselves are vital.
As Dr. Thompson said today:
The KEY to Puerto Rico right now is to protect all the remaining hospitals. The medical staff are now the front line soldiers and the key to survival in this country. Hospitals and clinics are closing daily due to lack of Diesel fuel, oil, water. There is a risk of mold in their air conditioner ( which is used for ICU patients) as well.
The 911 system is down and people are out in communities and nursing homes slowly dying without power.
We have adopted the hospital in Aguadilla which has one SAT phone for COMMS and some walkie talkies. The ICU was 95 degrees today and they need help. Scott will investigate the air conditioning unit tomorrow which may contain mold ( if so this hospital has to close).
The other concern is water—-the main dam and water source for the region is broken. The water is used to feed into 5 cities in the NORTH WEST. We spoke to an ex US military General who lives near the dam and he mentioned it will be 2-3 months before the water filtration system is up and running and it will only produce a truck load a day – not enough.
Water is and will be a serious issue for months here along with power /lighting/ insulin/ Dialysis and oxygen.
In addition, we have adopted several neighborhoods and barrios in the Aguadilla/Aguada area and we will be escorting Dr. Thompson’s team as they distribute water, solar lights, and food, and we will assist in doing medical/wellness checks.
American Veterans Helping Veterans in Puerto Rico
We have met many Puerto Rican military veterans here who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and also ex-pat mainland American veterans who retired from the military and moved here to Puerto Rico. Keep that in mind. When you help us help them, you are helping other veterans and the families of veterans, some who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation. They wore the same uniform you did, and fought and died under the same flag.
Tank of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children and I were talking about that just before I flew to P.R. He was pissed off at hearing self-described patriots saying “f*%k Peurto Rico” as if this were some other nation that had nothing with us. Tank pointed out the high per capita ratio of Puerto Ricans who serve in the U.S. military and how many of them serve in the Marine Corps. It has been that way at least since WWI as far as I know. Just like the American Indian tribes send a disproportionate number of their sons to fight and die whenever this nation is at war, when our nation calls, Puerto Ricans lace up their boots and show up, going into combat under the stars and stripes.
Therefore, as a simple matter of honor and decency, when they are in need, us “gringos” need to also lace up our boots and show up to help them. And that is why we are here. I have met some amazing men in Puerto Rico who I would go through hell’s front door with and they aren’t even veterans. Just young working class mechanics and laborers who like to surf in their spare time. But they are here with us, helping us as translators, guides, using their chainsaws and machetes to clear fallen trees out of the way, helping pick up supplies from the airport, and helping us protect those supplies and also protect the awesome doctors and medics from Third Wave Volunteers we are here to escort.
I’d like the put a special shout out to Jeremiah, a U.S. Army veteran who was born in the states, but who’s father was a Special Forces Vietnam vet who was born in Puerto Rico. Jeremiah has hooked us up with local accommodations, box trucks, and a ton of local contacts who have also stepped in to help, such as Christopher Silva, who owns a local mechanic shop. Silva has taken time away from his shop to serve as an interpreter and guide, along with his cousin Jean Badillo, who has also been helping us find the local barrios and remote communities that need help, and acting as our interpreter and guide.
As for the Oath Keepers, I still have with me some of our most squared away and experience men, including Scott Dunn (Army Ranger School graduate, ex-cop, corrections officer veteran and retired trauma nurse) who was with us in Texas, then in Florida, and is now here with me in Puerto Rico (yes, Scott needs a break, but he is still going strong six weeks in); Ivan Chaplinsky, an Army Ranger veteran who happened to spend six months driving military vehicles in Haiti back in the 90s (once I learned that, I made Ivan one of our drivers – if he can drive in Haiti he can drive anywhere), and, as noted above, also helps build power-plants; and David Harrington, who served in U.S. Army artillery and also did PSD and force protection work overseas. He is also a police academy graduate. We have more superb men on the way (see below).
Same Sh*#, Different Disaster – Just Like Texas and Florida
Just as we saw in Texas and in Florida, it is the poorer areas (the “barrios”), and the more remote poor rural areas, that are neglected by the government and by the Red Cross, with too little, too late in support. It is frustrating for us, but we are doing what we can. Just today we did a bit of recon into three local communities in the Augada area that suffered severe surge flooding during the hurricane who have seen zero assistance from the government of Puerto Rico, from FEMA, or from the Red Cross. We don’t fault the National Guard – they are doing all they can, but it’s beyond us why these communities have not even been contacted by anyone else but us. We were the first disaster relief/humanitarian aid of any kind they had seen. That is simply baffling to us, considering the billions the Red Cross raises with each disaster, and the massive resources at the disposal of the Federal Government (such as the U.S. military).
We saw precisely the same thing in Texas and in Florida – in many communities they see neither hide nor hair of either FEMA or the Red Cross. Or, at most, FEMA personnel show up with a clip-board and do an “assessment,” but with no supplies, and then they disappear, never to be seen again, leaving baffled and frustrated disaster survivors shaking their heads. We hear reports from survivors about the Red Cross showing up and maybe gives out a few meals to a few people, taking pictures, and then they are never seen again. We hardly saw any Red Cross trucks in either Texas or in Florida (I saw NO Red Cross in Texas where we were in Orange County, and the locals told us they hadn’t seen any either). And here in the Northwest of Puerto Rico, we have not seen a single Red Cross truck or personnel, or anyone from FEMA.
Now, that would be understandable if Red Cross were like us, a relatively small org with a limited shoe-sting budget, such as Oath Keepers or Third Wave Volunteers, but they aren’t at all like us. They have billions of dollars and hotline connections and priority with FEMA as well as with the rest of the U.S. government. We should see a friggin army of Red Cross trucks all over the place at a disaster, filled with food, water, diapers, and other supplies. But we don’t. And FEMA? FEMA is a joke. There are some good people who work for FEMA, but as a whole, FEMA is about as useful as a fart in a tornado when it comes to getting anything done on the ground, especially in the critical first 72 hours and in the critical first two weeks.
You know who takes care of business in the first 72 hours? The locals, and the people themselves within driving range who throw their ruck in the truck and put the petal to the metal, such as the flat out heroic “crazy ass coon asses” of the Cajun Navy who don’t wait for orders from FEMA or anyone else, and just hook up their flat-boats and airboats and “git-er-dun.” They saved countless lives in Texas, and then again in Florida. We are honored to have worked with them in the past, and we are happy to report that we are now coordinating with them again on getting supplies into Puerto Rico. We have offered to accept those supplies here at the Aguadilla airport, addressed to a local working with us so they are less likely to “grow legs”. Then we can make sure they actually get to the people of Puerto Rico rather than sitting unused in a warehouse on the docks in San Juan (like most other supplies sent to Puerto Rico, unfortunately).
Dr Thompson and her team from Third Wave Volunteers have been amazing. They are all seasoned, dedicated hard chargers who are ready to go wherever needed. They are dealing with the lack of communications and the difficulty in getting flights with supplies in, but driving on despite that.
It has been frustrating for us all to know that there are tons of supplies in the hands of FEMA in San Juan that are going nowhere, and having to rely on donated flights for supplies, that often are simply piggy backing onto other flights with other cargo. What we really need, frankly, is somebody who owns their own plane who can just fly the supplies in, without Third Wave Volunteers having to try to piggy back onto other flights. Where is our version of George Soros? Apparently only evil billionaires who hate humanity bother to help get things done for the organizations they support. Rich conservatives and libertarians? Nope. Not that I have seen. It comes down to working class and middle class patriots, as always, having to shoulder the burden, along with a few celebrities who have thankfully stepped up and donated the money to pay for flights for Third Wave Volunteers.
But for Oath Keepers? We have had some amazing patriots who are not even millionaires donate thousands out of their own pockets, and other middle class and working class members donate hundreds of their very hard earned money, and patriots who donate what little they can despite being strapped and one paycheck from being homeless themselves, but no billionaire has yet to step up. Again just the way it is.
We would greatly appreciate any financial support you can give, as we have considerable logistical expenses to get our men equipped, transported, and then fed while here on the ground. It takes money to do this. Just a fact. You can donate here https://www.gofundme.com/emergency-medical-evacuation and go here to donate to Third Wave Volunteers.
Our men do it for free, and we are getting free flights in from Miami, courtesy of Third Wave Volunteers and their supporters, but we would like to pay for our Oath Keepers volunteer’s gas as they travel in to Miami from around the U.S. and we need to take care of them while they are here in Puerto Rico. We need fuel for our trucks, and supplies to do the work, and we need to feed our men. Just as we follow the Special Forces model with our CPT teams, we have been doing the same here, with our medics and combat engineers helping with far more than just security. We will be doing it all, but the primary mission will still be protecting the medical and relief personnel of Third Wave Volunteers.
More Oath Keepers Teams on the Way!
Tomorrow we expect another team of Oath Keepers to fly in from Miami into Aguadilla, led by Army combat engineer/infantry combat vet Brian Carrithers (from Florida Oath Keepers). That team will include three USMC Puerto Rican veterans who have family here on the island. Also on that flight will be three active duty Marines who are escorting in some generators (to be sure they don’t “grow legs”). So, the Oath Keepers Marines are on their way! I am here with three other Army veterans, with three of us being Airborne, including Ranger veteran Ivan Chaplinsky (RLTW!) who were part of the first team in. Of course, when we heard some Marines were on the way, we joked about how “it’s about time the damn Marines show up”) but we love our Jarhead brothers and can’t wait to greet them on the tarmac in Aguadilla. In all the years we have done things like this, I know as certain as the sun rises that I will have a metric shit ton of Jarheads show up, right along with Army Airborne and Army infantry. Oohrah, and Hooah!
While the great mass of the people of Puerto Rico are good people, there are bad guys here too (as it is everywhere on this planet). We have yet to run into any – funny how that works. They tend to stay away from relief teams and convoys that are escorted by men who look like they mean business, which is precisely the outcome we want – but we have spoken to numerous local LEOs and National Guard who informed us there have been armed robberies, car jackings, and also the murder of a fuel truck driver, as well as gangs stealing /robbing entire fuel trucks at gunpoint. Which is why we are here. This means that our men are doing potentially dangerous work, but it is work that is necessary, and God willing we will be enough of a deterrent that the bad guys don’t even try it with anyone we are escorting. But our men will be ready if they do.
Please keep our men in your prayers and know that they are doing the right thing, for the right reason, and in the right way, with professionalism and compassion. God bless and thanks for your support.
Founder and President of Oath Keepers
PS – What Donated Supplies Are Needed to Help the People of Puerto Rico
Above all what is needed here by the people of Puerto Rico is food, water filtration systems, and biolights (little camping stoves that burn twigs and will charge your phone while doing it). Water the people can improvise, especially with a filter, but food is a different matter.
Canned goods, boxed goods, rice, beans, and other non-perishables, all is needed. As we saw in Texas and Florida, it is the working poor who suffer because they are out of work for weeks in the aftermath of a hurricane, and if they are farmers, their crops are destroyed. They live paycheck to paycheck, and when that is interrupted, they don’t have the money to pay for food even when it is available in the stores (but with long lines). And in the remote rural areas, and in the coastal areas that also flooded, they often don’t have vehicles since they were burried in mud and water. This means that many can’t buy food even when it is available to buy, and others can’t get to a store because their means of transportation was destroyed or they are still cut off by mudslides. Wherever we go to escort the medical teams, we want to have food to give out.
There is water everywhere here, but unless is is from a verified clean spring or well (that wasn’t compromised by the storm), it is risky to drink. Bottled water is wonderful, and we have been using it ourselves as well as handing it out to grateful first responders. But even better than bottled water is a filter, such as a Sawyer backpacking water filter, so the people can filter the water from a local spring or well to be sure it is safe. They can even filter water from a local river, but a spring or well is cleaner. Water filtration is critical. Without clean water, people get sick, and some will die (the very young and the very old are most vulnerable). Send water filters. One per family will be a Godsend.
BIOLITE STOVE FOR COOKING, POWER, AND LIGHT
The biolite stove burns twigs for fuel, and also charges most small devices with a USB port while at it. It includes an LED light that likewise runs off the power created by the burning wood fuel. With one of those, a family can cook, using them ample local vegetation (all kinds of twigs laying around in the aftermath of hurricanes), boil water to purify it, charge their phone, and have a light.
We will update the relief supply list with more details shortly, but that is a good start. We will also provide more details on where you can ship supplies, but for now we encourage you to contact Third Wave Volunteers, Cajun Navy, or Patriot Express (we will add in contact details).
NOTE: Oath Keepers stateside cannot accept or process general relief supplies for Puerto Rico. We are focused on providing on-the-ground security and other direct support with our well-trained personnel who span the spectrum of infantry combat veterans, special operations veterans, retired cops, EMTs and medics, and trauma nurses. But we are simply not set up to accept large amounts of supplies to then be shipped to Puerto Rico to be handed out. The above listed organizations, however, certainly can handle such donations. So contact them or send them to someone else you know who will receive them in Puerto Rico.
Anyone who is gathering supplies to send to Puerto Rico needs to be sure it is going to a specific person (even if meant for an org, put a real person’s name on it, who is a local), and it needs to be on a big label on the box, and someone needs to be there on the other end in P.R. to pick it up, or it is liable to “grow legs” and be taken by FEMA or by someone else. Just how it is.
In addition to providing security and support for Third Wave Volunteers, we are also working with Cajun Navy and with Patriot Express to bring in supplies they are flying in. They will send some plane-loads straight to us, as Oath Keepers, at the Aguadilla airport, and we will pick them up and be sure they go to people who really need them. We are happy to distribute in Puerto Rico since we are already helping Third Wave Volunteers distribute their supplies, but we can’t accept them in the states – just here in Aguadilla, by plane.
If you contact us with a plane tail number and time if flies out, from where, and what time it will land, we will be there to meet it at the airport and then get those supplies into the hands of the people. Contact us for more details at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please don’t try to send something intended to be used by a specific person in Puerto Rico. All supplies will be given out to whoever the volunteers determine needs to receive them.
Best, Oath Keepers