Boots on the ground: Two deployments, two different roles

WCC AmeriCorps members have been serving in Puerto Rico for 30-days at a time since October 2017, assisting communities after Hurricane Maria made landfall in September 2017. WCC AmeriCorps members will return home this month from deployments to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

An avid hiker, I joined the Washington Conservation Corps last fall to learn how to build and improve trails around my hometown of Issaquah. During the recruitment process, I learned my crew would be supporting more than trail projects: We were set to deploy to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the first week of our 11-month term to assist with hurricane relief efforts.

Four WCC AmeriCorps members gather on a flat rootop, wearing bright yellow vests and hard hats. Crew supervisor is wearing a white hard hat.

WCC AmeriCorps members gather for a briefing on how to properly re-seal a concrete roof. Photo by Liz Esikoff.

The prospect of being away from home for a month didn’t concern me, especially since I had served five years in the U.S. Navy where I only saw my home on occasion. Helping communities on the islands of St. Thomas and St. John proved to be rewarding, illuminating, and challenging. WCC AmeriCorps members are serving with a local volunteer organization, All Hands and Hearts. Together we assisted homeowners who needed storm-damaged materials and trees removed from their homes and properties.

A second mission: Puerto Rico

Two months after returning home from the U.S. Virgin Islands, we got another opportunity to assist communities affected by hurricanes, this time in Puerto Rico. We arrived on Jan. 12 as part of WCC’s third mission assignment in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Similar to my previous deployment, the local residents are facing damaged property and a variety of other challenges.  Our team of 48 WCC AmeriCorps members is serving alongside AmeriCorps members from St. LouisSBP, and the California Conservation Corps.

Unlike my last deployment, where I served in the field interacting directly with the community, I have been given the opportunity to serve in the command center, or Joint Field Office (JFO), as public information officer and deputy operations chief. I’ve experienced how the command staff bears the brunt of responsibility in handling incoming information and requests from the community, issuing daily work orders, and generally ensuring the mission is a success for everyone.

A WCC member talks on a cell phone while sitting at a table with lots of papers, two water bottles, and a thermos.

WCC AmeriCorps member Erin Harris uses her Spanish skills to set up assessment appointments. Photo contributed by Eric Rushton.

Embracing responsibility

Day after day, responsibility is the word and feeling of the day. My colleagues and I take to heart the responsibility we have to Puerto Rico and our fellow citizens who have been affected by the hurricanes. We have the responsibility to equip our AmeriCorps members with the supplies, information, and direction they need to help as much as possible before this whirlwind of grit and sweat comes to an end.

This responsibility drives each of us minute by minute, and the stress wears on us as the days go by. But the great thing about being part of a team is that we get to lift each other up throughout the day!

We can only be successful if everyone is successful. Every day I hear conversations and see actions by each one of us that builds up our team. This was true when I was serving in the field removing debris in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I’m happy to report that it’s true as I serve in a command staff position in Puerto Rico. Does it trickle down, or does it trickle up? It’s both. We all can affect the success of this or any mission by the individual actions we take, no matter which role we find ourselves in.

Join the WCC

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a difference in your community? We are now accepting applications for six-month WCC AmeriCorps members! Learn more and apply online today. See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC projects Flickr set and WCC featured projects story map.