More than 50 members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District have deployed for hurricane recovery duties in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. A few of the first to leave have returned, including O’Fallon resident and USACE St. Louis District Regulatory Branch Section Chief Keith McMullen.
McMullen served as part of a 40-person Operation Blue Roof team assigned to Caguas and its 13 barrios, or neighborhoods, along with fellow St. Louis District employees Pedro Rosario-Gonzalez and Capt. John Rossi.
“From the beginning, we were all in this together,” McMullen said. “One Corps family looking out for each other from districts all over the United States to support the Blue Roof mission.”
Operation Blue Roof is a priority mission managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The purpose of Operation Blue Roof is to provide homeowners in disaster areas with fiber-reinforced sheeting to cover their damaged roofs until arrangements can be made for permanent repairs.
Prior to his deployment, McMullen assumed he would be sitting at a desk, processing paperwork for faceless families. When he arrived to his assignment, his many skills beyond administrative duties were put to use in the field immediately.
“Our team was working with the local Section 8 housing employees, who were not working their normal jobs as a result of the Hurricane. These folks were invaluable as they knew not only the territory, but the families,” McMullen said. “I was so glad to be working in the field, meeting the families, processing the right of entry applications, and seeing blue tarp roofs within days of the first visit.
“It was hard work, draining physically and emotionally every day.”
But he is glad he made this deployment.
“I know I did something important. What I do in the District every day is important, but in this case, I saw the immediate effects of our work and received lots of hugs and smiles,” he said.
The Caguas region has stopped taking applications for this program, but Operation Blue Roof efforts will continue until all qualifying facilities have a tarp installed. This is only one mission type that St. Louis District is supporting. Another round of District employees have deployed to Puerto Rico to focus on temporary and permanent power solutions.
McMullen hopes other team members feel the satisfaction of hard work done well for the people feeling the effects of these devastating hurricanes. He is considering when to begin his next deployment.