From the high and dry confines of New Mexico, volunteers from White Sands Missile Range found themselves up to their waists in water assisting victims of Hurricane Harvey, and others are still standing by to help.
Working on only two to three hours of sleep a day, Raymond Zermeño and Nemesio Velazco traversed the town of Katy, Texas, by boat and trucks retrieving citizens stranded in houses submerged in flood waters after Hurricane Harvey displaced more than 30,000 people and prompted more than 17, 000 rescues.
"That's what we do. That's our mission," said Zermeño, a sergeant with the White Sands Police Department who deployed for the relief operation with his Texas Army National Guard Maritime Regiment out of El Paso, Texas.
During his six days in Katy, located about 30 miles due west of Houston, Zermeño said much of his 20-hour days was devoted to ensuring boats were prepared and manned for search and rescue operations. Although some were reluctant to leave their homes, Zermeño said they received a lot of big smiles and huge thanks from the many they pulled to safety in their boats. He said it was great to see how the community pulled together along with the Guard in dealing with the crisis.
"The support from local businesses and the community was tremendous," said Zermeño. "It was just a good feeling to have helped those folks."
Velazco is a detective with the White Sands Police Department who also deployed to Katy with the Texas National Guard. He arrived two days after the hurricane struck to find himself jumping from his truck into waters up to his chest helping people to safety from their homes.
"It was a great experience being able to help as much as I could. I was happy I got the chance to help those people out," said Velazco, who said he had similar opportunities to assist with humanitarian relief operations during his 22 years of military service both on active duty and with the Guard.
Helping the Guard pinpoint where to best place their rescue operations was White Sands Police Sergeant Kevin Mower who deployed with his New Mexico Army National Guard unit to a tactical operations center in Santa Fe, N.M.
From there, Mower said his team helped with the deployment of more than 600 Guardsmen and the delivery of six helicopters within a day to provide the observation and intelligence reports necessary to let the Texas Guard know where they needed to be for maximum effectiveness.
"It was an amazing experience to see how we can send aid and assets to another state in such a timely manner," said Mower.
Still standing by waiting for the word to deploy are Iris Torres, a retired Navy yeoman, who said she wants to put her skills as an executive assistant and officer manager at White Sands to work in support of the recovery effort.
Torres responded to a call for volunteers from the Department of Homeland Security to join the Surge Capacity Force by helping disaster survivors navigate through available programs for federal disaster assistance.
"I felt there was a need, and I have the ability to help," Torres said, explaining why she responded to the call for volunteers. She said doing so comes naturally after a career in the Navy.
"That's just part of what we did, giving service to those in need."
Those were the same sentiments echoed by Peter Grelle, a WSMR flight safety officer who is also standing by after responding to the same call for federal civilian volunteers.
"I just felt the need to help," said Grelle. "It's a difficult time right now, and I would like to have a direct impact on those Americans in direct need of assistance."