BROOKLYN, New York – Two weeks ago, 1st Lt. Andrea Gongaware and 1st Lt. Erin Hanley, both of the 554th Engineer Battalion, anxiously prepared for the U.S. Army’s Career Captain Course they were to attend at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. At the same time, residents along the East Coast prepared for Hurricane Sandy.
With no cable or internet in the homes they were still unpacking, the young lieutenants were focused on the challenges the course would bring. Twenty-four hours prior to reporting to class, however, they received word they would be reassigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery operations.
As they sat in the airport in St. Louis the following day awaiting their flight to New York, the two lieutenants worked to grasp their change of situation. Watching New York City Mayor Bloomberg and footage of devastated homes and neighborhoods on the news in the Delta terminal, they quickly began to understand the importance of their new assignment.
“I’m from Connecticut and my mom told me what she had done to prepare,” Gongaware said. “I thought she was just being my mom… and exaggerating things.” As images of buildings without power and streets full of wreckage and debris filled the television, Gongaware realized the situation had not been exaggerated.
“I was just ready to get there,” Hanley said. “I knew it would be an incredible opportunity to help.”
Gongaware and Hanley arrived at the Division’s Emergency Operations Center Nov. 3, eager to begin work.
Their mission was to serve on a team of eight local government liaisons, working with communities in the hardest-hit areas. The team works with local leaders, emergency managers, FEMA and other state and local agencies to better understand the needs of disaster-stricken community as they begin to recover.
“Helping others is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Hanley said. “We are here to add value to the mission whenever possible. We are helping communities prioritize their needs and informing them on what help is available, and the process they take to get help.”
In only four days, the young Army officers traveled nearly 800 miles and spoke to officials in 14 communities in New York and New Jersey.
“It has been very fulfilling,” Hanley said. “I feel like we are making a difference here and I’m hoping that our actions now will also help them prepare for future storms and emergencies.”