Winona Post: Winonan deployed to Puerto Rico
by Chris Rogers, 12/26/17
It was short notice. Travis Thul got an email from the Coast Guard saying he would be deployed to Puerto Rico. He would get a phone call within 36 hours with the details. Thul asked his boss what to expect. "Bring a sleeping bag and be prepared for anything," he was told.
Within a few days, Thul was on a plane descending into San Juan. It was nighttime, and the city of 350,000 was dead black. There were civilians on the plane, too, mostly Puerto Ricans from the U.S. mainland who had volunteered to help people on the island. One was sitting next to Thul. She was crying. "She was terrified of flying, but she felt compelled to help, so she volunteered with FEMA," Thul said. Even though they lived far away, these people carried a piece of Puerto Rico in their hearts, he explained. Now, the island was in the middle of one of the worst natural disasters in its history. They were doing what they could to help. "To see in these people's eyes this mixture of sadness, fear, and hope -- it was pretty intense," Thul said.
Most days, Thul is the dean of trade and technology for Minnesota State College - Southeast (MSC-SE) in Winona, but he serves as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves, too. He received the mobilization email on October 19. "This was one month after the hurricane hit, so I thought I was in the clear," Thul said. It turned out that there was -- and is -- a lot left to do.
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Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Jake Hauser: U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander and Minnesota State College - Southeast Dean of Trade and Technology Travis Thul (right) helped Army members distribute food and water to people in Puerto Rico. Thul was deployed to help the Coast Guard itself recover from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.