Members of the Choctaw Nation Tribal Police assist victims of recent Caribbean hurricanes. Photo provided.
Choctaw Nation release
DURANT – Not every man would voluntarily leave his home behind to help total strangers rebuild their lives. Despite having no electricity, a diet consisting primarily of MRE’s and a near constant state of being soaked, four Choctaw Nation Tribal Police Officers volunteered to assist with a hospital evacuation that resulted in the rescue of 47 patients.
On Oct. 5, 2017 the Ryder Hospital in Humacau, Puerto Rico lost power for the third time in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which followed on the heels of Hurricane Irma.
Quick Response Team Four sprang into action. One of the Department of the Interior’s emergency response teams to mobilize after the 2017 wave of hurricanes, Quick Response Team Four was made up of tribal public safety officers and Bureau of Indian Affairs agents.
This was the first Interior team to include tribal public safety officers for a FEMA-led response. The team first responded to aid the Seminole Tribe of Florida following Hurricane Irma, then after Maria hit, 14 officers voluntarily reassigned to Puerto Rico.
Of those 14, four were Choctaw Nation officers: Larry Master, Andy Kenyon, Marvin Jefferson and Zachary Hendrix.
The officers found it difficult to leave the hospitality of the Seminole Tribe.
“There was one day we ate five times. They kept feeding us, so we kept eating. I’ll go back to help them anytime,” joked officer Kenyon, “I think it’s awesome Chief Batton sent us. It wasn’t a Choctaw problem, but he wanted to help anyway.”
The team boarded a flight to Puerto Rico and arrived to find total devastation.
“It changed the color of the ocean. You could see where the blue met the brown of the mudslides,” said Masters.
“It blew every leaf off the trees,” Jefferson added.
Masters said, “We worked for 24 hours straight some days, and I can’t remember a day we didn’t work at least 16 to 18 hours.”
The team worked to provide security and offer their services to anyone in need. On the night the hospital went dark, the Choctaw officers escorted military vehicles to safe hospitals and helped land helicopters sent to rescue the most critical patients.
Hendrix said, “The Puerto Rican people were very gracious. They kept thanking us for being there.”
While evacuating the hospital, the team was completely cut off from the rest of the world.
“There was no radio, the cell towers were down and it took an hour to drive to the hospital from where we were,” Kenyon said.
Choctaw Nation’s Executive Director of Public Safety John Hobbs is proud of his team. “They just kept volunteering, kept going, there’s no quit in them,” Hobbs said.
The team encountered many struggles while in Puerto Rico, not the least of which, a language barrier.
“Our GPS gave us directions in Spanish. Some of the names were so long, by the time it finished telling us we had to make a U-turn,” Masters said.
While the men enjoy sharing their experiences and laughing together, to Puerto Rican families they helped, the Choctaw public safety officers are true heroes.