ANASCO, Puerto Rico — When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last month many of us turned on our televisions. Eric Reeves bought a plane ticket.
The Essex, Iowa native is now in the heart of the disaster zone in southwest Puerto Rico along with a team of veterans who until a few weeks ago were complete strangers. He and a group of veterans who call themselves the Anasco Expendables are working to gather and distribute supplies in the mountainous region where many are still cut off by mudslides.
The story of Reeves’ mission to Puerto Rico begins in early September when Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Reeves, a veteran, decided he couldn’t watch Americans struggling so he reached out to his community for donations, loaded up a truck and headed for Florida. After a week of helping he returned home; but he didn’t stay for long.
“He was down there for about a week and after four days of being at home he said ‘No, I can’t do this I need to go down and help some more,” says Reeves’ girlfriend, Amanda Bryant. With her blessing he packed up again and head back to Florida. This time he put out a request on Facebook looking for people in the area to help him out. That’s how he came across a group of like minded veterans doing the same thing as him.
“He had no idea who any of them were beforehand,” says Bryant, “He just trusted it and went on his own. He met up with them and they’ve been taking care of things since then.”
After a week in Florida the men realized there was another group of Americans in even more need: Puerto Ricans. The men booked the first flights they could find to Puerto Rico and then headed into the heart of the hurricane zone. When they arrived they were shocked at the devastation and disorganization they found. They turned to social media to spread that message, posting videos on Facebook as they worked their way across the island.
Soon those videos found an audience and went viral. “They’re shocked at how fast their videos have been shared across the country,” says Bryant, “I know from talking to Eric how thankful they are for all of the love and support that they’ve been given while doing this.”
The men had been spending money out of their own pockets to buy supplies for Puerto Ricans in need. As their videos spread online they started a PayPal account to solicit donations to continue their work. Money is now coming in and their mission has been continued indefinitely.
“He did call me before they left for Puerto Rico and asked me how long can I be gone before I’m mad at him”, says Bryant. She told him that she and the couple’s daughter would be fine as long as he returned by late October. However, she’s now given him an extension on the mission.
“After talking to him and seeing the videos I said if you need longer just let me know. I can make it work, we can figure it out. At the end of the day we’re still a team so I support whatever crazy decision it is that he decides.”
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