Atlantic, Ocean - A religious program specialist assigned to Naval Hospital Jacksonville from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, volunteered to embark the Mercy-class Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) for humanitarian operations in Puerto Rico.
Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class Jose Reyesbermudez, who is now part of the religious ministries team aboard Comfort, still has loved ones in need residing in Puerto Rico, including his mother.
He spoke with his mother two days prior to Hurricane Maria's landfall. She told him she wasn't ready for another hurricane but would stay strong and hold down the fort.
When the hurricane made land fall, Reyesbermudez received a text message from his mother that she's okay but was struggling for food and gas.
"There was no way to send mail to her, which frustrated me," said Reyesbermudez. "Being in Florida, there's not much I could do but pray for her. I don't even know if she ended up going to a shelter."
Reyesbermudez wanted to volunteer and make a difference, so once he found out the Comfort was getting underway he requested the opportunity to go. His knowledge of the island and the language made him a vital asset for the mission.
Within 24 hours he received word that he was embarking the next day, leaving behind his wife and child.
"The news was bittersweet, but I knew this was my chance to help all those people," said Reyesbermudez. "And I want to be the best asset I can be. I would be glad to participate in any mission, from rescue to delivering food-whatever it takes. And hopefully I can see my mother on this trip and give her a few things."
As part of the religious ministries team, he looks forward to connecting with the people in Puerto Rico to give them hope as well as moral and spiritual support.
"I'm excited to be on the Comfort," he said. "I want to be in Puerto Rico already and get this started. I would be perfectly content if I had the opportunity to talk to even a couple of people and pray with them, share stories, inspire them and give them hope."
The Sailors aboard Comfort could arrive as early as Oct. 3, to provide humanitarian relief in Puerto Rico. And Reyesbermudez will be a valuable resource for the relief effort.
"He can help us help them," said Cmdr. Michael Chaney, head chaplain aboard Comfort and deputy chaplain assigned to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. "Being bilingual and from Puerto Rico, he will allow us the opportunity to fill in details when the bigger picture comes in, such as helping us know precisely the best street to go down or the best way to receive people. We're so blessed to have him."
Comfort is making way toward Puerto Rico for humanitarian operations and disaster relief. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the head federal agency in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort.