Following natural disasters, countless USACE professionals step up and answer the call to aid in disaster response and recovery. When destructive wildfires swept across the island of Maui, emergency management specialist and Native Hawaiian, Kenny Amuro, couldn’t throw his hand up fast enough.
Amuro’s hometown of Makawao is near Kula, which was impacted by the Upcountry fires in early August. The fires, which devasted Lāhainā, Kula and Olinda have now been named the deadliest wildfires in recent U.S. history and have prompted a unified national response—a response Amuro desperately wanted to be a part of.
“I couldn’t get here fast enough,” said Amuro, who is currently working for the Japan District nearly 5,000 miles away. “I just wanted to get here to help. I wanted to get back and give in any capacity whatsoever.”
Amuro wanted to share his expertise to help his community recover.
“I feel like it was my duty to come here and help,” he said. “Being from Hawai'i, it’s personal. It’s my home. It compelled me to do whatever it took to get down here.”
Proudly donning a tattoo of his beloved Hawai’i on his forearm, his admiration for his island home, and its people, is clear.
Amuro was born and raised in Upcountry and says many members of his community were impacted by the fires.
“I have 15 immediate family members that still reside in that area, and I have many family and friends that were affected and lost their homes both here and in the fires in Olinda and Lāhainā.”
Amuro, who served 16 years as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force and another six years as a fire captain for the Federal Fire Department-Navy Region on nearby O‘ahu, said the devastation on Maui is unprecedented.
“I know what happens during and after fires and just seeing the devastation here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “This place needed help, healing and personnel. I wanted to do anything I could, even if it’s just the little things I can do to help, that’s what I want to do. Even if it’s as simple as explaining how to properly pronounce the Hawaiian words or discussing how to honor our Native heritage and culture. I thought maybe I could be a bridge between USACE and the people of Maui.”
Amuro, who has worked as an emergency management specialist with USACE for two years, says being part of the ongoing disaster response has been eye-opening.
“It definitely makes me proud to represent USACE. I already had an idea of what USACE does but now to be truly in it makes me fully appreciate it so much more, to see what’s done behind the scenes.”
Amuro said it is apparent USACE is dedicated to respecting the people, culture and environment of Hawai'i as part of this mission.
“All the steps the Corps has taken to get cultural monitors and to introduce everyone to our Hawaiian culture is so appreciated,” said Amuro. “They are integrating the local community and cultural liaisons to incorporate the voice of the people here. I’m just amazed at the care being taken. The compassion that everyone has and the respect for the culture is so appreciated. Our leadership and our team from beginning to now have made it a priority to put my culture and the considerations of Hawaiian people first in all of their decisions.”
Amuro is grateful for his fellow USACE volunteers, as well as other first responders, who are on the ground helping residents of Maui now and into the future.
USACE is working in partnership with local, state and federal responders to the Hawai'i wildfires. USACE subject matter experts have been working under FEMA mission assignments to support temporary emergency power, critical public facilities, such as supporting temporary school solutions, and debris planning and response missions.
“I sincerely appreciate everyone who has volunteered to come help. The best and the brightest have come down here… to help, to serve the people of Maui, and to help the people of Hawaii recover.”