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Lt Col Dion Viventi Gives Presentations on Puerto Rico Mission

Viventi showing map
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Lt Col Dion Viventi shows from the FEMA website the sectors of the island where he and his crew flew aerial photography missions. Photo Credit: 2d Lt Liz Dunster, CAP (click image to view full size)
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Great support shown for Tar River Composite Squadron pilot

1/30/2018––Tar River Composite Squadron pilot, Lt Col Dion Viventi, recently gave two presentations about his Civil Air Patrol (CAP) mission to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. One presentation was to Chapter 1047 of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the other was to his CAP home squadron. The presentation to the EAA Chapter took place on Saturday, January 6, 2018 in Wilson, NC and more than 30 Chapter members braved freezing temperatures and snow and ice on the roads to hear his talk. The presentation to the Tar River Composite Squadron was held on Thursday, January 25, 2018, and saw a full room with 31 attendees, including guests from the Goldsboro and Johnston County Composite Squadrons, parents of cadets, and cadets and senior members from Tar River.

Lt Col Viventi has previously assisted in other CAP missions, including the Deep Water Horizon and Hurricane Sandy missions. However, this was the first time he was leaving the lower 48 states – so he had not been to Puerto Rico before. After the North Carolina Wing Commander, Col R. Jason Bailey, called him and asked him if he could fly this mission, he received support from his employer (he is the Airport Manager at Rocky Mount-Wilson Airport) to take the time off work. Lt Col Viventi explained to the audiences that he has both an instrument rating and has had over-water survival training due to his volunteering with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, both of which were essential to fly this mission. He had, however, never flown over open water beyond gliding distance before this.
Lt Col Viventi flew to Puerto Rico on an American Airlines commercial flight and met Lt Col Van Etten, CAP, who he was a co-pilot with for the entire Puerto Rico mission. They stayed in the port of de Bahia de San Juan on the TSS Empire State (a training ship) for the first few days. Lt Col Viventi had never stayed on a ship before, so this too was a new experience. Notably, despite there being many flights of stairs there were no elevators on the ship and there was only one place on the ship where you could get internet service! On board the ship, they were well fed and stayed in cadet quarters. He described the cadet bunks as being small, but said he had no difficulty sleeping since they were so tired at the end of each day. He found it interesting watching the U.S. Coast Guard offload and pick up supplies onto the ship, through the ship’s side entry portal. Half-way through the week, they were upgraded to quarters in an Italian ferry ship, and were made very comfortable. It was a stark contrast to the spartan training ship and they were given red carpet treatment and served gourmet food – finally Lt Col Viventi found his much-needed cappuccinos!
The Puerto Rico CAP Mission HQ based their operations at the Hospital di Metripolitano, one of the few places on the island that had a generator running 24/7. This was where the sorties were assigned and daily mission briefings and debriefings were given. The entire island was dark at night and he describes it as “unbelievable to see.”
Lt Col Viventi’s crew was assigned the difficult task of covering the aerial photography of the mountainous regions. They were to take off from the east (because of wind direction) and come in from the west, using ground references. He describes flying around the mountains of Puerto Rico as a “challenge” because, although he is familiar with mountain flying and has trained for it, he had no idea how mountainous the island was before his arrival. He describes the island as very “lush and beautiful.” When comparing the island's mountains to the mountains in North Carolina, they have the same sort of height, but he was not accustomed to flying in the weather around those mountains. He says it was “some of the most challenging flying I have ever done.” 
Lt Col Viventi also talked about the challenges posed by the many large military helicopters flying around the island, since they create enormous rotor wash – enough to have added to the damage caused to the airplanes at the airport by the hurricanes. For example, his crew had to ensure that they stayed more than 1000 ft from an Osprey in order to stay out of its rotor wash.
CAP used Cessna C-172 (“Skyhawks”), C-182 (“Skylanes”) and the Gippsland GA-8 (“Airvan”) for the aerial photography missions over Puerto Rico. Lt Col Viventi said that the Airvans were especially good for these missions since the crew could take photographs from both sides of the aircraft windows. Their “preferred” passenger was an eight man life raft which went up in the Airvan with them daily. 
Lots of local Puerto Rico CAP members, including pilots and cadets, were integrated into the aircrews to assist in the mission. Lt Col Viventi said that their skill level was exceptional and their attitude was very positive despite their personal circumstances. Maj Ralph Aviles, CAP, was their go-to aerial photographer. His job was to take the photographs and upload them to FEMA daily. Aerial photos have to be technically just right in order for FEMA to be able to use them and they were very impressed with the standard of photography. Maj Aviles is a true aerial photography expert who is from Puerto Rico but lives in Florida. He also helped train other aerial photographers while there on the CAP mission.
Lt Col Viventi vividly described the destruction that he saw in Puerto Rico. In the densely populated areas around Caguas, everywhere he looked it was hard to find any house or building with a roof. It was difficult to find anything with any resemblance to normal. He found it mind boggling that anyone actually survived all the debris flying around. Also damaged were radio and cellphone towers which had been knocked down and huge power lines. Photographs of all of this destruction had to be taken in order for FEMA to assist in directing disaster recovery efforts. Even the massive Arecibo Radio Telescope sustained significant damage. Almost nothing escaped intact, except for the Convention Center in San Juan which was built to withstand hurricane force winds. So it was used as the Joint Command Center.
A Puerto Rican cadet ground team assisted in the ground logistics work. They were well trained and it was their island which they love. CAP is a big community activity in Puerto Rico and they have a large cadet program. Many of the Puerto Rico cadets want to be pilots. The cadets would go home and try to wash their clothes with bottled water, because there was no power or running water at home. The schools were closed and Maj Pina, who was a school teacher, volunteered with aerial photography with them daily. Despite having no power at home, she made the crew fresh bread every day. Viventi says that the people he met there had an unbelievably positive attitude. Despite the devastation and many people having lost everything they possessed, teamwork was everything. People were helping one another out – he was impressed by their resiliency and attitude and says, “I felt in a very privileged position to help in any small way."
Lt Cols Viventi and Van Etten’s return to the U.S. included transporting the Airvan back to its home base after the mission was over and this meant lots of flying over open water. Lt Col Viventi says that he had never flown over the Atlantic Ocean before and he and Lt Col Van Etten took turns flying legs of the long flight home. They stopped in at the Turks and Caicos islands and went through Customs there (the first time he had ever used his passport). The Turks and Caicos had limited power and no internet, as the islands had also been tremendously impacted by the hurricane as well. After the Turks, they headed to the Bahamas for R&R and then on to Fort Lauderdale, FL, as their point of entry back into the United States.
Lt Col Viventi, along with the other CAP members who served on this mission, received recognition in the form of the Disaster Relief Ribbon with “V” device for the Presidential Declaration Disaster of Hurricane Maria.
Lt Col Viventi was asked by various audience members if he had any take-aways from the mission and his response described it as the “most well-coordinated mission I have ever been on.” He went on to say that FEMA did a really good job with this mission. "We had impressive communication and support throughout the mission. The biggest problem with Puerto Rico was getting supplies to places there.” He went on to say that he was “mesmerized by the island and the people there. Everyone was very positive despite their dire circumstances. They are very hardy and resilient.” He added that he was impressed with the thousands of volunteers from all over the U.S. who were there to help with disaster relief. There was a tremendous outpouring of volunteer spirit to help our fellow citizens. When asked how we might all be better prepared for a major hurricane, he advised everyone to, “Get a generator! They became very hot commodities down there.”
Lt Col Viventi’s presentation and wonderful slide show of photographs from the mission were well received by both groups. C/Capt Richard Green describes it as a “valuable lesson in aerospace education, emergency services and leadership for cadets and senior members.” 2d Lt Nicholas Green said, “The thing that struck me most about Viventi’s presentation is the number of volunteers from all walks of life, CAP members, truck drivers, medical personnel, and many more, who had all given their time and come together to help relief efforts in Puerto Rico.” 2d Lt Melita Bullock echoes Green’s sentiments: “This was my first look at CAP's part in a post hurricane mission. It was amazing to see how so many people and organizations came together in the face of such harrowing devastation. It made me even more proud to be a part of CAP and makes hope a little more tangible in the world today.”
Tar River Composite Squadron commander, Maj William Hess said, “Lt Col Viventi’s presentation was a good reminder of the effect our service can have on those we help and an encouragement to the rest of us to prepare ourselves to be of service to our community, state and country.”