ARCADIA, Wis. (WKBT) - As the potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria heads toward Puerto Rico, area members of the National Guard have just arrived back from helping out with Hurricane Irma damage.
More than 600 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers shipped out to Florida last week.
On Sept. 9, Wisconsin National Guard units received orders they were to head to Florida. Two days later, 75 men from the Arcadia and Onalaska units landed in Fort Lauderdale.
“In the military, it just goes with the job,” acting Platoon Sgt. Adam Steffen said.
"(Our) bags were packed,” Captain Eric Boyle said. “We were ready to go.”
Boyle commands the Arcadia and Onalaska units.
"We went down there; it was 95 degrees,” he said. “We got acclimated in a hurry and took care of business."
"It was hot,” Steffen agreed. He knew he'd be away from his wife and three kids for up to 60 days, but he was proud to have his boots on the ground as part of a disaster relief mission.
"That's the traditional Guard mission,” Steffen said. “A lot of people put in 20 years and don't get to do that, so that was kind of nice."
It was the first out-of-state deployment for many men, including Dylan Dooley.
"The damage is pretty bad. A lot of trees tore up, people without power all over the state of Florida,” Dooley said. “It was a pretty devastating thing to see."
The Guard helped restore power, and soldiers took over for Miami-Dade police on tasks such as traffic control to give officers working consecutive 12-hour days a break
"I love helping people,” Dooley said.
"We figured anything we could do to relieve them and give them a breather, even if it was for two days,” Steffen said.
Guard members said the Florida community was more than welcoming, and residents and officials made sure they always had plenty of food and water.
On Sept. 17, after about a week, the Guard was able to come back to Wisconsin.
"They're happy to be home, that's for sure,” Boyle said, adding he couldn't be more proud of his men.
"It was an honor,” he said.
The Guard members said they’re more than ready to head out if disaster strikes again.
"In a heartbeat,” Steffen said.
Initially, the National Guard in Wisconsin was prepared to drive more than 100 support vehicles to Florida as well, but they ended up not being needed.
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