By Deb Everts
New York Army National Guard Specialist Anthony Caputi of Salamanca recently received the Humanitarian Service Award for his service last autumn in the hurricane response in Puerto Rico.
Early last month, Major General Anthony P. German, the Adjutant General of New York, announced the recent award recognitions for members of the New York Army National Guard who participated in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support missions following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017. Caputi was among those National Guard members who will receive an award recognition.
“The support of our New York National Guard in the Caribbean following Hurricanes Irma and Maria was nothing short of exceptional, and our soldiers are the reason for that success,” German said. “Our Citizen Soldiers are used to responding here at home, so the effort to move troops and equipment to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands presented unique challenges. The presentation of the Humanitarian Service Medal is a great reflection of our soldiers’ commitment to serve others.”
Caputi, who serves with the 152nd Engineer Company of the New York Army National Guard, based in Buffalo, was among 125 other soldiers from the same company that departed for Puerto Rico from the 914th Air Refueling Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, Oct. 18 and 19, according to a press release issued by the air reserve station.
According to Caputi, the soldiers were sent there with heavy equipment to help clean up the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria and restore lines of communication. He said the task included a mission to distribute food and potable water to locals in need.
Caputi said he is trained on 10 different pieces of heavy equipment and operated a high-mobility engineer excavator almost daily while in Puerto Rico. He said it’s basically a modified version of a backhoe loader that is meant to travel at high speeds.
“Personally, I was on debris removal missions for a majority of my time down there,” he said. “We made roads passable so people could get to where they needed to go.”
Along with his fellow Guard soldiers, Caputi has gone through a lot of special training to be able to successfully perform these tasks. He said they train every drill weekend and during their annual training.
“All of the training I did up to that point prepared me for it (Puerto Rico) and we continue to train for natural disasters,” he said.
A 2011 graduate of Salamanca High School, Caputi enlisted in March 2014. He said the National Guard is separate from active duty and the reserves and soldiers are the first responders to natural disasters.
This is not his first time coming to the aid of people in need. Caputi was active and helped with snow removal efforts during the Snowvember storm that dumped seven feet of snow in the Buffalo area in 2014. Caputi said it means a lot to him to be able to assist people in the face a disaster and he’s fortunate to have the opportunities to do so.
“The people (in Puerto Rico) were extremely grateful. We were greeted with smiles everywhere we went,” he said. “It was a very gratifying and humbling experience. Some people lost everything they had, but we were able to give them hope.”
Although he hasn’t received the physical award, yet, Caputi said he has it on paper. As far as an official ceremony, he’s sure his leadership has something planned, but they have been really busy with planning their annual training that’s right around the corner.
Caputi said he really appreciates the recognition. As the father of two children, Avah and Annsley, he said they are his motivation to be the best person he can be and joining the National Guard was a step toward that goal.
The National Guard Bureau provided guidance for awarding the Humanitarian Service Medal on March 29 for soldiers who provided meritorious participation in operations of a humanitarian nature. More than 400 Army National Guard Soldiers will be eligible to receive the award. Presentations will be made at the unit level at a future date.