Article by Matt Benedetti
The idyllic autumn weather in Amherst, Massachusetts mirrored the optimism of five college students returning to class. Gamalier Rosa did not share their enthusiasm as his sights turned to home.
The 32-year-old Post Commander of VFW Post 754 was following the developing news of Hurricane Maria, a powerful category 4 storm.
Reports describing the widespread damage throughout Puerto Rico were particularly unsettling to Rosa, a native of Aguadilla, PR. The September 20th hurricane, the strongest storm to impact Puerto Rico in 89 years, overwhelmed the archaic power grid plunging the U.S. territory into darkness. At least 60 people were killed, thousands injured and countless left without power.
Rosa, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, felt compelled to help.
By Oct. 16, Rosa found himself walking through a devastated landscape with no streetlights, hazardous conditions and a curfew in effect. He remained there, distributing food, water and providing clean-up aid for the next three months.
"My town was destroyed, making it difficult to operate,” he recalled. "It was tough to see the kids walking around with ripped clothes and with no food and water,” he said.
Eric Segundo, Massachusetts VFW State Commander provided counsel in Rosa’s decision to volunteer for three months on the storm-swept island.
"After the storms occurred in the fall, a call was made from national to all the VFW’s for assistance. Massachusetts committed close to 20 thousand dollars in aid,” said Segundo. "Gam Rosa volunteered to go to Puerto Rico as our Disaster Relief Chairman to assist those directly affected by Hurricane Maria,” he said.
"All the posts stepped up but Gam Rosa took it a step further and became our boots on the ground,” said Segundo.
Born in Puerto Rico, at 9-months-old Rosa moved to Worthington Street in Springfield, Mass splitting his childhood between both places.
After high school, he enlisted in the Army serving a tour in Iraq during 2010. Working as a civilian, Rosa missed the camaraderie and sense of purpose he found in the military. This enduring call to serve eventually drew him to VFW Post 754 in Amherst where he is now the Post Commander.
"The VFW is like a family and the posts in Florence and Southwick were very supportive and helped make the trip possible,” said Rosa.
With the VFW’s support, Rosa purchased much-needed generators for aid and rescue teams to conduct operations. As well, Rosa visited VFW Post 12064 CW2 Isaias Santos in Ponce, PR; which was the most active VFW Post after Hurricane Maria to organize food and water distributions to hand to the Veterans, Soldiers and their dependents, who came into their office to file for the VFW Unmet Needs Program Disaster Grant. It did not take long to realize his contributions were meaningful to those in need.
"It was heartbreaking to see the damage and hard not to get emotional,” he recalled. "I knew we were making a difference when we were able to distribute water and food to families that were suffering,” he said.
Segundo believes that it is unprecedented to have a VFW member volunteer in this capacity for an extended period.
"Gam is a dedicated member of the Massachusetts VFW and we can’t express how much we appreciate his service,’’ he said.
"To have members step up like Gam to help fellow veterans and their families speaks to the dedication of our members-the commitment comes from the heart,” he said.
Today, tens of thousands in Puerto Rico still have no electricity since Hurricane Maria struck five months ago.
"We are proud of Gam representing the Massachusetts VFW in this way. No one does more for veterans than the VFW,” said Segundo.
As winter reluctantly yields to spring in Amherst, Massachusetts, VFW Post Commander Rosa is busy leading VFW Post 754. His thoughts, however, are with the people of Puerto Rico as he waits for the next call to service.