MREs, Tarping, and Meeting a Superhero in Puerto Rico

Edith Alvarez-Garcia

When Hurricanes Maria and Irma hit her homeland, a Team Rubicon volunteer stepped up for her first disaster relief deployment. Then, her mother arrived.

I joined Team Rubicon in 2016, shortly after being medically retired from the U.S. Army. As a soldier who had just seen the rest of her military career go down the drain, I was in search of something that would fill the gaping hole I felt in my life. 

Adjusting to civilian life had been much harder than I ever imagined, and during the first two years of being a Greyshirt, I was unable to deploy or participate in any training. Working a full-time job and going to school full time, the concept of “free time” did not exist in my vocabulary. Yet that didn’t stop me from raving about Team Rubicon to anyone who would listen, including my mom.

In September of 2017, my mom, Wanda Figueroa, signed up as a volunteer. Within a month she was able to deploy to Texas to support Operation Hard Hustle—Team Rubicon’s response to flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in August. Talk about being jealous! She came home and the excitement on her face and her stories were more than I could have ever dreamed! 

Greyshirt Wanda Figueroa in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Meanwhile, something else was hitting a little too close to home: In September, within two weeks of each other, Hurricanes Irma and Maria had hit the Caribbean. Being born and raised in Puerto Rico, I had immediately felt the need to help. I remember calling my mom frantic, unable to reach family members and friends on the island. As soon as I found out that Team Rubicon was deploying assistance to Puerto Rico, I requested the time off and was able to deploy. Little did I know that this deployment would change my entire life. 

I remember as we were preparing to land, looking down and seeing so many homes that had been destroyed. I remember driving through the neighborhoods I used to recognize in disbelief of what was in front of me. After being on the ground and assisting the first couple of days in the mobile clinic we had set up in the coliseum, I received another call: My mom had just received her dispatch instructions and was flying out in a few days. 

I remember picking her up from the airport and being completely overtaken by emotions. There was the happiness in having each other at that moment, and the sorrow and pain of what had happened to our home. We packed up the truck and headed back to the FOB. Then, we spent the most incredible week together. 

Serving as a Greyshirt alongside my mom was surreal. Together, we took cases of water and MREs to families who had been without electricity and water for days or weeks, provided medical assistance, tarped up houses, and helped with translation services and check-ins at the clinic. 

Every little girl looks up to her mom. You know … she’s this “Wonder Woman” who balances work, life, and, in my case, being a single mom of three. And to think here I was, 26 years old in Puerto Rico with Team Rubicon, after two of the biggest hurricanes hit our home doing the most badass $#t with my mom. I mean, I knew she was awesome, but this was the next level.

Mother and daughter Greyshirts Wanda Figueroa and Edith Alvarez-Garcia serving together in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Leaving Puerto Rico after that deployment was the hardest thing I ever had to do. However, I knew that my job was far from over. As soon as I returned home, I immediately got on the phone and spoke with my state admin, Brian Buhman, eager to take on more responsibility. I had drunk the Kool-Aid, the rest was history. I returned to Puerto Rico two more times with Team Rubicon—on Operation Coqui Comeback in May and June of 2018—and was dispatched to assist with Operation Black Snake in Secaucus, NJ, that September.

My mom, meanwhile, has moved back to Puerto Rico. Since our deployment together she has been certified in Chainsaw Level 1, Site Survey, and Core Ops. Today, this Greyshirt Wonder Woman also serves as Team Rubicon’s membership lead for Puerto Rico.

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