An adventure in Puerto Rico

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniella Peña-Pavao
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

When you think about an exercise what do you think of? Putting on Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear? Flying to another country to do training? Lucky for me, I was tasked out of the 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs office to go to Puerto Rico to act as a civilian reporter for Vigilant Guard.

Back in January, I was tasked to go on a TDY (temporary duty assignment) to Puerto Rico for a week. I supported Vigilant Guard Puerto Rico, an annual exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command throughout the United States and its territories.  Sounds nice, right?

On March 9, my journey to Puerto Rico began. When I arrived I knew how blessed I was to have been chosen to support this exercise. I fell in love at first sight with the beautiful island. From the San Juan airport to the hotel, I relished in my first taste of P.R. The people, pot holed filled highways and crazy traffic were refreshing.

The following day, myself and two fellow Airmen from different units received a quick rundown and mission brief of what we’d be doing for the next few days.

The scenario for the exercise was that Hurricane Lola hit the island on March 8 leaving the island devastated, just like Hurricane Maria in Sept. 2017. In summary, there’s no power, a shortage of food and supplies, and many people have died. The purpose of the exercise was to provide participants with an opportunity to realistically assess their overall preparedness in the event of a large scale all hazard event.  This meant I would be working hand in hand with the Puerto Rico National Guard at Fort Buchanan.

I was excited!  In a few words, I role played civilian news media. I covered interviews with senior leaders, actively participated in press conferences, and covered exercise events at various locations on the island. Everything had to be done and produced as fast as possible, just like a civilian journalist. This was a new experience for me as my timelines are normally different being a broadcaster in the Air Force.

The next few days flew by! I drove to Ceiba, P.R., which is an hour and half away from San Juan, for an exercise event. The sights on the way took my breath away, mountains to my left and ocean to my right. I didn’t want the drive to end but when it did, I got to work.

And so it began, “EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE! My name is Dani Peña-Pavao with E.N.N. What can you tell me about what’s going on today? Where are the trucks? Where is the water?” I asked the Guardsmen around me. They were in shock at first and then snapped into exercise mode, it was a breeze after that. I continued to grill them with questions and they responded as best they could.

As with all exercises for Public Affairs, every morning I was tasked with different interviews and products that had to be finished by the end of the day. As a fluent Spanish speaker, I helped translate information and communicate with the locals. It was a very high tempo but with the training I’ve had in the last three years of journalism I was more than prepared.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The exercise was done, it was time for me to say goodbye and return to my home station. I felt confident I had done the best I could to help the Puerto Rico National Guard with their mission of improving hurricane response strategies. In fact, we were told by Donald Miles, the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs Chief of Future Operations, that our work as “synthetic media directly influenced some major decisions that were made by Puerto Rico National Guard senior leadership.”

I guess I can say confidently, job well done.