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Posted 4/9/2018

Release no. 18-018

Dino Buchanan


Bryanna R. Poulin

FORT SHAFTER — When natural disasters strike locations within the U.S. and its territories, U.S Army Corps of Engineers personnel from across the country mobilize to assist with the disaster recovery missions. 

While supporting an impacted location with potentially catastrophic damage, these personnel leave behind parents who worry about them and, many times, children who’ll miss them.

Over the course of the last eight months, the USACE has deployed thousands of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons to provide technical expertise and support recovery efforts when Hurricane Maria and Irma hit and when California wildfires erupted. The Honolulu District deployed more than 30 personnel – some multiple times – since the first disaster struck.

Maria Buckner, a Honolulu District procurement analyst, was one of the thousands who recently returned home from a recovery mission deployment.

“I deployed to the Northern California Wildfire Debris Removal Mission for 30 days,” Buckner said. “This was my first debris disaster mission. … I performed as one of four invoice reconciliation team members, which is more budget analyst versus contracting type of work,” she said.

As time dragged on, she began getting homesick.

“I missed my family and doing contracting work,” she explained. “Also, not having a day off was exhausting, too.”

When she went on a site visit, she realized how lucky she was.

“One Saturday morning, our contract specialist, Stacy Pereyda-Hill, took our team on a site visit,” she described. “The devastation was not as visible from the main road, but when we drove up the valley into the county, it was devastating to see that the majority of the homes in the county were burnt to the ground.”

Luckily some homes were spared.

“There were a couple of homes, including their yard, that wasn’t even touched,” she said. “This was eerie to see, especially when homes all around were burnt to the ground. I believe we saw a total of four homes that were okay, and two of those homes had people living inside.” 

When you’re part of a mission that has removed 1,638,089 tons of debris – that’s equal to the weight of about one-and-four-fifths Golden Gate Bridges – it’s essential to be on a supportive team where everyone gets along.

“It helped to work with an outstanding group of people who made me feel at home,” she said. “It was also less stressful to have ‘Bette’ and ‘Bug’ in the office with us.”

Leah Caldwell, contracting officer, Sacramento District USACE brought her dogs Bette, an English bulldog, and Bug, a French bulldog to the RFO, daily.

“Most of us on the contracting team are dog owners, so it made the office environment feel personal and comfortable,” she said. 

At last, her 30 days were over, and Buckner went home with more gratitude and lifelong connections.

“Professionally, the deployment gave me more of an appreciation of what USACE does and my role as a deployed employee,” she concluded. “Personally, I have met some terrific people who I now call lifelong friends.”