As a child growing up on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, Navy reservist Jason Lyons knew that part of the island was in desperate need of clean drinking water.
At age 12, he invented a water system that he hoped would solve the problem, entering his creation into a science fair competition and winning the top prize at local, national and international competitions. The pump, named in his honor, is still in use today, ensuring that the people of the island have access to clean water.
“I’ve always been a little bit of a scientist, and I’ve always been a person that likes helping people,” Lyons said.
Decades later, Lyons is still finding solutions to problems both big and small. As a second class petty officer in the Navy’s Amphibious Construction Battalion, better known as the Seabees, he focuses on community repair. In his day job, he serves as the Red Cross regional manager for preparedness in New York. He says that in both roles, he’s proud to build resilience and infrastructure for communities in need.
“I’ve always tried to find ways to help people,” Lyons said. “As a humanitarian, you look for the greatest need and determine how to best fulfill it. That’s why I came to work for the Red Cross and why I wanted to be a Seabee.”
Preparedness is key
For Lyons, an important part of safety in any community is preparedness. He says that building community resilience is key to building that community’s capacity.
“If we are prepared, we can reduce the number of emergencies we have and we can have better lives,” he said.
At the Red Cross, Lyons also is assigned to an emergency response unit that deploys following international disasters. Lyons, who deployed when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in 2019, said the disaster team’s role is critical in helping the immediate needs of the local community.
Rustam Makhmudov, a Red Cross colleague, called Lyons the “Swiss army knife” of international crisis responders.
“Jason is a tremendous asset to our international team,” Makhmudov said. “His background in relief, preparedness, community outreach and engineering ensure that he supports any sort of situation.”
After an international crisis, Lyons and colleagues arrive within 24 to 48 hours to set up phone and internet services. He says these services might sound trivial but they are tremendously important.
“If you have a hospital that needs to send images of injured patients that need to be analyzed by medical professionals, it can’t without the internet,” he said. “If you need to request supplies or personnel, it’s simply not possible without the internet or the phone.”
For Lyons, integrating into the local community in the wake of a disaster or after a conflict is vital. When the Red Cross responds to an international disaster, Lyons says they leave resources to assist the community in the future.
“We leave radios and equipment but also leave knowledge on how to build systems and how to best utilize the equipment. So that the next time this community has a storm, maybe they don’t have to call us,” Lyons said. “Or if they do call us, it’s not for the same thing or it is for a lot less help. That’s the goal.”
Seabees work is ‘simply phenomenal’
Lyons says that his work with the Seabees echoes similar themes.
“What the Seabees do is simply phenomenal,” he said. “Our motto is, ‘We build, we fight — we build, we defend.’ And we do just that. We build, schools, hospitals, bridges, roads, we do it all.”
Navy EN2 Michael Cabonilas serves as Lyon’s unit supervisor. He described Lyons as his “go-to guy” who is never going to say no.
“He knows everything. And if he doesn’t, he’ll find the answer,” he said.
In the wake of COVID-19, their unit faced new challenges in terms of its digital platform. Cabonilas says that Lyons found a solution that allowed the team to communicate more effectively when they needed to drill remotely.
“In this case, he was quick to find a technical solution that made our work environment better. That’s one of the many things I like about working with him — Lyons is a solutions-oriented guy,” Cabonilas said.
Lyons says that his work is a passion.
“I love that we find the need and help people. Most importantly, we work with the local community to do what’s best for them during a challenging time,” he said. “I think that’s something we can all relate to.”
Editor’s note: Susan Malandrino is a former AmeriForce Media editor who currently is a communications lead with the American Red Cross.Read comments