Latin Times Magazine 1st Quarter 2018 - Page 13

Heros for Puerto Rico Ret. Colonel Evelio Otero “We shipped directly to the recipients, the people, and tried to avoid the State Government in Puerto Rico and prevent the log jam of containers in San Juan. We did that very successfully and became one of the largest relief organizations in the country.” by: Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: Take us back to the days leading up to September 28th, 2017; as Hurricane Maria made its way toward the Island of Puerto Rico. - how did you feel, and what went through your mind during those hours? Ret Colonel Evelio Otero: Well, we have been tracking Maria as we evacuated to North Carolina readying for Hurricane Irma. Maria was not changing its path and we began making phone calls to fam- ily and friends in Puerto Rico to make sure they were taking the necessary steps. I had a deep bad sense in my stomach that this time it would be heartbreaking. When we got back to Tampa I was glued to the weather report and feeling helpless that such a monster hurricane was about to descend in Puerto Rico at 154 MPH Category 5. Understanding that in the mountains and around the island outside on San Juan historical devastation was very likely. Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: How big a role did your military background play in put- ting together the plan of action for Puerto Rico relief – and how fast were you able to implement it? Ret Colonel Evelio Otero: Well, it was important to get in touch with like mind- ed individuals who understood what dis- cipline and organization meant to what could be a large relief operation. All those contacted supported and dozens of ci- vilians understood the importance of a plan, priorities, objectives, etc. I the be- ginning it was precise. The civilians who took on leadership roles in the organiza- tion proved to be tremendous assets and at times were key in the decision-making process. It became clear to me that our or- ganization, Course of Action Foundation, a 501 (c) 3, was the best venue to track all donations for Puerto Rico, whether cash donations, or supplies. This gave sever- al entities a sense of relief and we were joined in the effort. Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: What was the first thing you did? Ret Colonel Evelio Otero: First, I visited the warehouse to view a possible staging point. Brenda Irizarry, wife of Richard Trela, own- er of Homeland Intelligence Technologies, invited me to see what she was working on. Unbelievable energy and the place was per- fect, 25,000 sq. feet. Then we had to assess ways to send what we collected. We could not receive supplies that we were not pre- pared to send. We evaluated if financial do- nations would be necessary as we could not count on solely free planes, or ships. Then we contacted mayors in Puerto Rico, as well as churches. We identified a team that would go to Puerto Rico to ensure delivery of goods and moved forward. We had to remember that this is 100% voluntary organization and we had to take into account that factor and not burn out the wonderful hundreds of vol- unteers we received. floor. Antonio and Linda Davila, who ran the volunteer and packing process, made this effort flourish. Key folks who never hesitated to work 14 and 15-hour days such as MSG Walter Gonzalez, Aaron Tromma- ter, and Brenda’s father, Edwin, who worked harder than anybody, and Marisol Garcia. I got to mention TSgt Kelvin Valle, a logis- tics expert, who worked in the planning of the logistics and travelled several times to Puerto Rico to directly supervised the process of distribution and many times fix kinks in the process. Finally, Mariann Persad who was the key person in orches- trating the shipping process and in essence designed the manifest process and coordi- nation with the shipping companies. Many more contributed far and above what any- one expected. Hundreds showed up on the weekends to sweat and pack and ship. I have to be deeply grateful to the biggest guard- ian of our effort, Rep Janet Cruz, without wanting anything in return, quiet and kind, showed up and offered her hands to support the volunteers as well as contacts to assist in our effort. Thanks to her the New York Yan- kees, Tampa Bay Lighting, Tampa Bay Rays, Amscot, and others made the shipping possible of 500,000 pounds of supplies, of the 3 million pounds of inventory we had. Senator Dana Young came to the warehouse and helped us obtain additional space at the airport. Commissioner Stacy White was a welcomed support as well. Finally, Mr. Tom Pepin who selflessly put our disposable his much-needed trucks. Mr Joe Capitano, and the Ybor Italian leadership were instrumen- tal. As of course Mr Jose Fourquet from Merrill Lynch who leased private planes and flew supplies to Ponce. So, we had ma- jor supporters from the Minnesota Twins organization to New York Yankees to the Carlos carrasco Foundation they made our effort successful. Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: Tell us about how you went about building your team; I know you had a big team of people that jumped in immediately to help; who would you say played a major part in the relief efforts. Ret Colonel Evelio Otero: We put togeth- er a basic skeleton crew then folks joined in as needs arose and they proved valuable to the organization. Key players were Luis Raul Laracuente who established the first contact with the Puerto Rico government leadership in Orlando. Of course, Liza Ri- vera-Ruse, who was totally responsible for a very successful website, Facebook page, and road signs around Tampa. A consum- mate professional she was the face of the effort along with Brenda and Arlene Marie Oliva. Arlene Marie is the President of All American Music entertainment and they were key in the coordination, phone calls, negotiations and orchestrating the Air Force donating airplanes as well as private entities donating dozens of containers. All Ameri- can was directly responsible in obtaining 5 Read entire interview online: additional warehouses to support the mon- strous effort we found ourselves in. Antonio Soler became the operations head on the T his I ssue of L atin T imes M agazine is sponsored by 13