Iowa Air Guard security detail headed to Puerto Rico

SIOUX CITY — Eight members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard left Monday for Puerto Rico to provide security for relief workers helping victims of Hurricane Maria.

The Security Forces personnel from the base in Sioux City will deploy with 16 members of the 132nd Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard based in Des Moines.

Col. Greg Hapgood said the Guardsmen were transported Monday on a KC-135 Stratotanker from Sioux City to Des Moines. Because there’s no power for runway lights in Puerto Rico, the airmen remained in Iowa on Monday night before heading to the U.S. territory Tuesday morning.

Hapgood said the Guardsmen will remain in Puerto Rico for an indeterminate period, supplying supplemental security to civilian law enforcement personnel and relief efforts.

Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday, left at least 15,000 residents in temporary shelters, and much of the island without fresh water, electricity or telephone service. Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in Congress said Sunday the destruction has set the island back decades, even as authorities worked to assess the extent of the damage.

Col. Jim Walker said this is the fourth time in recent history the 185th Security Forces has aided victims during disasters under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an agreement that offers assistance to all U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia.

“In 2005, we offered assistance following Hurricane Katrina,” Walker said at an impromptu news conference Monday at the Sioux City base. “We also offered assistance following flooding in Eastern Iowa in 2008, as well as when the Missouri River flooded in 2011.”

Col. Stephanie Samenus said the 185th received a request to assist in Puerto Rico on Saturday.

“This all came together in less than 48 hours,” Samenus said. “We didn’t have any problem getting volunteers willing to help out.

“This is the reason many of us joined the Iowa Air National Guard in the first place,” she added. “We want to provide a service to those people in a time of crisis.”

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