The U.S. military faces a significant logistical challenge with ongoing disaster relief operations in Puerto Rico, where millions of American citizens require assistance.
Puerto Rico is nearly 1,000 miles away from the closest U.S. state, and Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely damaged many of its ports. President Donald Trump highlighted the sheer distance of of the commonwealth in a White House appearance Tuesday, saying “it’s the most difficult job because it’s on the island. It’s on an island in the middle of the ocean. It’s out in the ocean. You can’t just drive your trucks there from other states.”
“This isn’t like Florida where we can go right up the spine, or like Texas where we go right down the middle and we distribute. This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. This is tough stuff,” Trump lamented, echoing the same concerns of U.S. military officials. Chief of the National Guard Bureau Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters Monday that Puerto Rico only had approximately 1,400 guardsman on the island before the crisis, and that any additional forces must be flown in.
Compounding the distance and the lack of manpower is the sheer level of destruction in Puerto Rico. “80% of the transmission system and 100% of the distribution system are damaged,” the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday, adding that “approximately 44% of the population is without drinking water” and “eleven of 69 hospitals have fuel or power.”
A later statement revealed that the U.S. military can barely communicate on the island because of “severely degraded communications infrastructure,” noting that “messengers” between commanders are now the preferred method of communication.
Despite the immense challenges, the U.S. has multiple warships in the surrounding area airlifting supplies and personnel onto the island. The Navy’s hospital ship “Comfort” is also en route to provide medical assistance.
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