Alumnus aids hurricane-ravaged island, says military is also a brotherhood

As Hurricane Irma roared toward the United States destroying nearly everything in its path, Jonathan Rodriguez-Lucas knew he’d probably be sent to help.

He’s a member of the National Guard.

That’s what they do.

He was right.

“We were activated a little less than a week after Irma hit,” he said. “We had a bit of a warning, but the official order came down only about 12 hours before we left.”

His team — the Ohio Air National Guard’s 200th Red Horse Squadron — was headed for St. Thomas, an island in the Caribbean Sea that was ravaged by the category 5 storm.

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Rodriguez-Lucas

Rodriguez-Lucas, a Lambda Chi alumnus from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, left for St. Thomas Sept. 13, his squadron’s main responsibility being to set up a Disaster Relief Bed-Down System (DRBS). They maintained two “tent cities.”

It was the first time he had ever done anything like that.

“As can be expected, there was a lot of devastation,” he said.

He returned to the States Saturday after more than a month of relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The most rewarding part was just knowing that even though we weren’t directly out in the field cleaning up, we were supporting the camp, which was in turn supporting the people,” Rodriguez-Lucas said. “We had people come up and tell us thank you. There was one local woman who brought us food … In that kind of situation, emotions are always high. But they really are glad you’re there.”

Of course the mission didn’t come without challenges, like the semi-open-ended orders they received.

“We didn’t necessarily know when we were coming home. We were also down there when Maria hit, so we had to leave and come back,” he said. “There was a lot of uncertainty.”

Rodriguez-Lucas also had to be away from his wife and 16-month-old son, which was hard, he said, but they’re used to it.

“It’s just what I do. The peanut is oblivious to all of it, and for my wife it’s just like, ‘Oh, he’s off playing Air Force again,'” he said.

Reflecting on the experience Tuesday, Rodriguez-Lucas compared being in the National Guard to being in the fraternity.

“We were always focused on service,” he said of his time in Lambda Chi at WPI. “I’m pretty sure we put in more community service hours than the community service fraternity on campus. It was always there. It was never really a question of were you going to do it, it was always when are you going to do it.”

There’s a sort of brotherhood about being in the military.

“It’s kind of like being in another, slightly different kind of fraternity,” he said. “I was the new guy, but I wasn’t necessarily treated like the new guy.”

Rodriguez-Lucas graduated in 2007 from WPI and joined the Air National Guard last year. He is based in Mansfield, Ohio.

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