U.S. Military Efforts in Dominica Reunite Father, Son

By Marine Corps Cpl. Melanie A. Kilcline

Eric David Shargel was alone.

The 48-year-old U.S. citizen and Dominica resident had just signed over guardianship of his 3-year-old son, Elijah, to a former teacher at Hunters College in New York so the boy could make it safely to the U.S. He hadn’t spoken to his other son, 14-year-old Naya, since Sep. 16. The following day, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Dominica, devastating the island and severing all forms of communication. David suspected that Naya was stranded on the other side of the island, and he was not going to leave without him.

“Naya had gone to stay with his mother on the other side of the island a few weeks before the storm,” said Shargel. “The last time I spoke to Naya was the Saturday before the storm hit.”

David Shargel embraces his son, Naya Shargel, when they reunited after being separated for days during Hurricane Maria on the island of Dominica. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melanie Kilcline

Eric was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, and lived in Potomac, Maryland, for many years. His first son, David, is now 24 years old and studies media and politics at Hunters College.

“David is planning to take off time from school to take care of Elijah once the teacher brings him to New York,” said Shargel. “I was lucky enough to have my oldest son’s former teacher here to be able to take Elijah to the U.S. for me. I trust that his teacher will get my baby boy to David Jr. safely.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Lisa Ray interviews U.S. citizens David Shargel and Naya Shargel after their reunion. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melanie Kilcline

When Eric arrived at the U.S. Department of State evacuation control center, staffed by Joint Task Force – Leeward Islands personnel, he drew up a map of where Naya was on the island in hopes that the search and rescue teams could go out to find him. Three days went by with no sign of Naya.

“As I stayed at the evacuation center for three days, the service members were such an amazing help to keep my hopes high and spirits up,” said Shargel. “I was able to vent to the U.S. forces about my worries and concerns, and they helped the time pass and kept my mind off my worries.”

David Shargel shakes hands with a member of the U.S. State Department’s Dominica team, thanking him for aiding in the search and rescue of his son. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melanie Kilcline

Service members with JTF-LI have been assisting with the Department of State-led voluntary evacuation of American citizens since Sept. 22 from Douglas-Charles Airport in Dominica. Other members of the task force are operating out of Martinique and Guadeloupe as they coordinate with the U.S. Agency for International Development to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the islands of St. Martin and Dominica.

The task force is a U.S. military unit composed of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen and represents U.S. Southern Command’s primary response to hurricanes Irma and Maria.

U.S. citizen David Shargel embraces his son, Naya Shargel, at Douglas-Charles Airport in Melville Hall, Dominica. Naya was separated from his father during Hurricane Maria; the two were reunited after a three-day search by U.S. service members. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melanie Kilcline

“Each time a helicopter came back to the evacuation center, I was filled with hope that my boy was on each and every helicopter that landed,” Shargel said.

Fortunately, Hurricane Maria did not win this fight.

On Sept. 26, Naya stepped off a U.S. helicopter at the airport, escorted by search and rescue teams members. When he saw his son, Eric ran up to him and wrapped his arms around him with tears of happiness and relief in his eyes.

“It felt like I could finally breathe again when I saw my boy walking toward me,” said Shargel. “I had a fatherly intuition that the SAR team had my son in this particular helicopter and had finally found him.”

Naya and his father David fill out evacuation paperwork at Douglas-Charles Airport in Melville Hall, Dominica, Sept. 26, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melanie Kilcline

The task force safely evacuated Eric and Naya to the island of Martinique. They are now on their way to reuniting with their family in the U.S.

“I cannot begin to explain how thankful I am to the U.S. service members for all their help,” said Shargel. “Many blessings to everyone that has helped!”

JTF-LI has evacuated more than 170 people who were stranded on Dominica since Sept. 22. Some of these people had spent days without food and water, and others were hurt and in need of medical attention. The task force provided food, water and medical help to evacuees, as well as transport off the island.

Just like Naya, many other U.S. citizens were rescued after many hours and long days of searching.

More: DoD Hurricane Relief Efforts

“As soon as I heard the helicopter,” said Naya, “I knew it was coming for me.”

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