Harlingen South JROTC Cadets fill sandbags for hurricane season

Cadets in Master Sgt. Armando Tsukano's Air Force JROTC class at Harlingen High School South fill bags of sand as part of their community service project "Operation Rain Block." The bags will be used by Cameron County to assist residents in times of flooding. (Travis M. Whitehead | Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — Cadet Capt. Samuel Nieto remembers waking up one morning many years ago to find his bedroom floor under water.

He was only 3 or 4 years old, but the scene still holds a strong memory in his mind.

That’s why Nieto, 17, eagerly shoveled sand into bags to help residents in the event storms flood the area again.

“It’s a great sense of service just to know you are giving back to the community,” said Nieto, who worked at a quick pace Friday morning with his fellow Air Force JROTC cadets at Harlingen High School South.

The cadets, under the direction of Instructor Air Force Master Sgt. Armando Tsukano, were filling the bags as part of the program’s yearly community service project “Operation Rain Block.”

“We are giving our time and effort to fill sandbags,” Tsukano said. “We have a partnership with Pct. 4 of Cameron County. We’re giving them about 2 to 3,000 sandbags. We are still at the peak of hurricane season.”

The cadets moved quickly and with enthusiasm to fill the bags under a cool sunlit morning at South. There was the “cahc-cahc-cahc” of shovels grinding into sand and the rustling of plastic bags fitted over PVC pipe, a talented coordination of many tasks coalesced into a singular effort for a specific purpose: ensuring residents are safe in their homes during heavy rains.

“It feels interesting to be a part of it,” said Cadet Staff. Sgt. Alejandro Osornio, 16, a junior at Harlingen South.

“It’s very entertaining and hands-on,” he added. “It’s a great thing to help the community out. This is my first time coming here.”

He also has been impacted by the flooding and the need for sandbags. His grandmother, whom he visits often, has needed them during times of heavy rain. And of course no one wants his grandmother to feel unsafe. That’s perhaps one of the reasons he so eagerly filled the bags.

Cadet Capt. Jaelyn Hernandez, 17, was also aware of the great opportunity offered by “Operation Rain Block,” both for her and the community.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of it,” she said. “I am happy to help people out to get what they need.”

Tsukano said he expected Pct. 4 Commissioner Gus Ruiz to visit the students next week for another session of sandbag