This article originally ran in the RESERVIST Magazine, Issue 1, 2018.
Submitted By: Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, PADET NYC
Last October, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Graham boarded one of the emptiest flights he’d ever been on when he left New York to fly to Puerto Rico. He landed on the western side of the island at an old Air Force base.
He immediately learned the importance of a good personal technology/communication plan.
“My [cell]phone didn’t have service, but luckily, my point of contact was waiting for me at the airport,” said Graham, who’d arrived just three weeks after the storm made landfall on the island. The hurricane was the worst natural disaster on record for its residents.
Graham’s objective was simple: he would support Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen clinic in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, in its mission to maintain service to military members and their dependents. Executing his mission proved to be much more challenging.
“The air station's clinic was completely destroyed by the hurricane, so we were operating in a makeshift space that was significantly smaller,” recalled Graham. “Imagine you and your coworkers pick up your computers and supplies from your workspace and then move into a workspace that’s two or three times smaller.”
In addition to servicing a higher than normal patient count due to response efforts in the area, he also supported the flight surgeon.
“An air station clinic is different than other Coast Guard clinics, because they assess the medical readiness of aviators and their supporting crews,” said Graham. “After every patient encounter, we issued either an ‘up-chit,’ indicating that the member is authorized to fly, or a ‘down-chit,’ indicating that the member is prohibited from flying until their condition resolves. It was definitely a learning experience for me.”
Graham, 34, is a member of the clinic staff at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore. He joined the Coast Guard Reserve in 2013 as a way to change his career path away from financial regulation.
“I certainly appreciate the work that financial regulators do, but it wasn't for me. I felt like I was just pushing papers around,” he said. “I wanted a 180-degree career change. I wanted pursue something that would enable me to make a more tangible difference in people's lives, so I became [a health services technician] in order to help jumpstart my career in healthcare.”
During his deployment to Puerto Rico, Graham would occasionally spend his off-duty hours going on humanitarian aid runs with the local fire department, delivering food and water to smaller communities around Aguadilla. He even helped make a direct impact in the life of a local resident
“One of the civilian employees at the clinic was without electricity for over two months, and her home was destroyed by the hurricane,” said Graham. “We all pitched in and surprised her with a new generator.”
After a 60-day mobilization, Graham departed Puerto Rico in early December to return home to Brooklyn, N.Y. There, he’s working on completing the prerequisite college classes to apply to occupational therapy school, but if the opportunity to return to Puerto Rico arose, Graham would be ready.
“I’d hop on a plane tomorrow and head back,” he said.
Air Station Borinquen clinic staff during Hurricane Maria response. The staff serviced a higher than normal patient count due to response efforts in the area and assessed flight crew medical readiness.
Photo provide by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Graham,
fourth from the left