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story.lead_photo.caption Randy Edwards, owner of Fayetteville Martial Arts

Randy Edwards returned home to Fayetteville after weeks in Puerto Rico this fall amazed by the resilience of the people there.

Photo by PROVIDED BY RANDY EDWARDS
A woman, left, stands in front of what remains of her home in Puerto Rico in November while receiving a donation of bottled water. The woman’s home was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September. Randy Edwards of Fayetteville took this picture while working in Puerto Rico.

"They're happy people. They're counting their blessings," Edwards said. "They're not complaining about what they don't have. When they are getting something, they're just overwhelmed."

Citizens or not?

A poll conducted Sept. 22-24 by Morning Consult found only 54 percent of Americans knew that people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. The poll surveyed 2,200 adults.

Source: Staff Report

He saw firsthand the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria during a pair of two-week-long trips to Puerto Rico this fall. The trips were tied to his involvement with Men in Black Disaster Response Solutions, a business that responds to hurricane-stricken areas in the United States to help restore some normalcy.

In particular, Men in Black contracts with Fresenius Kidney Care to maintain and stabilize its operations so the company can continue serving dialysis patients at its clinics, according Troy Burleson, Men in Black president and founder.

"It's very important these doctors and nurses get to work," Edwards said. "So we come in with food, fuel, water, whatever it will take to keep these people working."

Men in Black also helps with patients' needs, he said. The group's contractors are paid for their work.

Edwards, 51, owns Fayetteville Martial Arts. He spent a total of nine weeks away from home this summer and fall responding to hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

It's nothing new for him. He said he's worked nearly every hurricane that's hit the United States since Katrina in 2005. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is the worst he's seen, he said.

More than three months have passed since Maria's direct hit on Puerto Rico, and about half the island still lacks power. An already weak infrastructure received heavy damage in the storm. Countless homes were destroyed. And while it's still unclear how many died because of Maria, some estimate the death toll at more than 1,000.

Edwards spent his first two weeks in Puerto Rico, shortly after Maria hit, with Fresenius executives visiting various stores to secure and arrange food and water deliveries to 28 dialysis clinics on the island.

During his second two weeks, starting in mid-November, he was primarily responsible for picking up Men in Black workers from the airport and taking them where they needed to be, Edwards said.

His experiences in Puerto Rico have made him reconsider the things in life he took for granted.

"Absolutely everything you have is a gift. You've got to be thankful for that," he said.

His frequent absences from home this year have left his wife, Darcy, alone to care for their two young daughters, ages 5 and 6. The couple also have three adult children.

"There are things I've missed. I missed the dance recital. I missed Thanksgiving with them," he said.

Darcy Edwards manages their martial arts studio and family while he's away. She handles his absences with a healthy dose of perspective.

"There are a lot of people who have spouses who are deployed or have lost their spouses to death," she said.

The friends Randy and Darcy Edwards have made through martial arts and their church have been very generous in offering help, and the dojo's staff always steps up when her husband is away, Darcy Edwards said.

Burleson, who lives in Boone County, started Men in Black after Hurricane Katrina. Most of the workers are law enforcement officers from Arkansas. More than 200 of them, almost all from Arkansas, responded to Puerto Rico's disaster, he said.

Many of them went beyond what was expected as far as helping residents affected by storms, Burleson said.

"We call it the MIB way. They come down with the attitude of 'how can I serve someone else,'" he said.

Burleson said he's known Randy Edwards for more than 30 years, dating back to when Edwards was his martial arts student.

"He's a good man. Very reliable, very resourceful person," Burleson said.

Burleson returned home from Puerto Rico on Dec. 20. Men in Black's work there probably will finish up the first week of January, he said.

He noted the violence in Puerto Rico, driven mainly by gangs and drug cartels.

"There were shootings in the streets. Police working dead bodies on the roads. I'm not sure if that's a new normal or just the normal," he said.

But he, like Edwards, was impressed by the Puerto Ricans' attitude about their situation.

"Maria hit a bunch of nice folks who had been struggling for many years already," he said. "It took people's houses, their livelihoods, their ability to have transportation and communication.

"What touches us most of all is, these people can lose everything they've got and they're still like, everything's going to be OK. We probably didn't hear any complaining. Here, it would have been much different."

NW News on 12/24/2017

Print Headline: Fayetteville man sees Puerto Rico devastation up close

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