BELLE GLADE, Fla. -- Shortly after Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida with Category IV winds Sept. 10, Matt Bonner, a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District, received a phone call asking whether he'd be interested in deploying to support the hurricane recovery.
He said he remembered thinking to himself that it would be a few days before he'd go, but he was willing to volunteer. "I was sitting in a good spot with my workload and told my supervisor that I was good to go," he said. Little did he realize that he'd be on a plane the following morning heading to Florida.
Bonner said upon his arrival, the blue roof team immediately got him into a training program to learn everything he needed to know to work as a quality assurance inspector. He said the training was great and he felt very well equipped to do what he needed to do to accomplish the mission.
Initially, that mission included scanning requests across Martin and Palm Beach counties to determine whether a home was eligible to receive a blue roof. Bonner said flat, steel and tile roofs were generally excluded because the contractors could not securely fasten the material to the home. The days, he said, were long and often blended into each other. He added that he often lost track of time because of the work and his desire to get it done as quickly as possible. "One of the ways I noticed that a week had passed by was the fact that I'd run out of clean laundry," he said.
With the initial inspections complete, Bonner said the tempo has slowed a bit and he's been performing spot inspections to ensure the blue roof was installed properly and to talk with the homeowners to verify they are happy with the process.
Despite some occasional language barriers that Bonner was able to overcome with his smartphone, he said the communication with the homeowners has been great. "You talk to so many people," he said. "It really puts things into perspective. When you find or talk to people that are happy their blue roof is helping, that's great."
Bonner said the deployment, his first, has been a great experience thus far. "Meeting with all of the people that needed help was pretty humbling," he said. "Whether they were rich or poor, they all needed our help."
Cullum Miller, Bonner's supervisor for the blue roof mission in Florida, said the task has been a rewarding experience. "It's always good to help Americans in a time of crisis," he said. He added that the hurricane impacted a lot of people and many of the homeowners had their roof blown off. "We're here to help these people while they wait on a contractor to [permanently] fix their home," he concluded.