Adjutant General of Puerto Rico, Brigadier General José J. Reyes is determined to clean the image of the National Guard, among other priorities on his agenda.
That´s why, when he took office a week and a half ago, the ordered an investigation into three state guards accused of abuse of power and nepotism during the emergency caused by Hurricane María. He made it clear that if the investigations concluded in evidence against them, they would face expulsion.
“I want to deliver a clear message that the actions of two or three people do not reflect the actions and values of men and women, who at difficult times, have always been ready and willing to serve the people,” Reyes told El Nuevo Día, in his office in Fort Buchanan, in Guaynabo.
Before Reyes was confirmed, the National Guard was facing a series of alleged irregularities over having installed an electricity generation in a private property; manipulation of the payroll and problems with supplies for the victims of Hurricane María.
These allegations led to the expulsion of Héctor Vázquez Rivera and then, suddenly, Isabelo Rivera resigned as National Guard Adjutant General.
Reyes said the investigation he commissioned is the result of the irregularities detected when Rivera was still the head of the National Guard and because there are “additional” questions.
“Two or three rotten potatoes have no room here. There is no room for corruption or for people who cannot bear the name of the Guard with honor,” said Reyes, calm but firm. He was retired and came back to lead the National Guard.
He added that the result of the first investigation was referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Government Ethics and the Comptroller´s Office. “Now, it´s up to them to conduct the corresponding investigation,” Reyes said..
He told that he ordered another probe into three National Guard soldiers that he did not identify to protect the investigation that should take about 60 days.
“Investigators were assigned according to the procedures, I am waiting for the results to take the corresponding actions,” he noted.
Air, land and state are the three components of the National Guard. The main mission of the state National Guard, which consists of volunteers, is to act and support the population in a war situation. In case of an emergency, such as a hurricane, the Governor can call them to active duty.
Reyes, whose role as dual status commander stood out after the destruction caused by Hurricane María, stressed that his intention is to “reaffirm the unconditional commitment of the men and women of the National Guard.”
A year and a half after Hurricane María hit the island, Reyes said that the National Guard learned its lessons.
He said he is going to “position” soldiers in Vieques and Culebra; provide tents and place qualified personnel in safe places to certify runways and avoid airports collapsing like what happened during Hurricane María.
He also added he is already in communication with the Assistant Adjutant Generals of the 33 states that worked with Puerto Rico after the hurricane. His goals is to have the agreements signed before June 1, when the next hurricane season starts, in order to have immediate assistance, if necessary.
“My commitment to the people of Puerto Rico is that I am going to prepare the National Guard to respond to an emergency,” Reyes noted.
He already started with an aggressive maintenance plan for vehicles and ships in the National Guard. He assured that before June 1 all the equipment required to transport medicine, water, food and soldiers will be 100 percent ready
The goal is to have other support vehicles 80 percent ready by June 1.
“Helicopters are already 100 percent,” Reyes said.
“I don´t like surprises. I like chess. I like to think six moves in advance and I believe we owe the people of Puerto Rico to be proactive in our job,” he stressed.
Regarding the 156th Airlift Wing, whose WC-130 carrying nine crew members crashed in Savannah, Georgia in May, 2018, Reyes said that governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares has just requested Washington the fleet renewal, since planes date back to the 1950s. And added that they are waiting for an answer to that request.