Puerto Rico needs significant government help, but it would be a mistake to launch a major military rebuilding effort on the island.
Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean the military shouldn't take on a short-term role in Puerto Rico. On the contrary, forces should be employed to ensure basic supplies of clean water and power, and to enable a more effective logistics effort.
But the longer-term effort is a different matter. Some look at the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy Seabees, for example, and see untapped resources specifically predisposed to repairing critical infrastructure. Such an understanding has an obvious appeal: Many Americans wonder why we spend so much money on foreign military operations and don't use more capabilities at home.
Not so fast.
While military construction units are exceptionally capable in critical infrastructure provision, they do what other construction specialists cannot: operate in warzones.
And were these units deployed to Puerto Rico for the long-term, military readiness for rapid deployments into war would be limited. Yes, these units could be relocated to a warzone on a slower timetable than preferable, but even then, their projects in Puerto Rico would be left abandoned.
There's a better alternative. Repealing the Davis-Bacon law that wastes taxpayer money, the federal government should hire private contractors for the medium- to long-term work of reconstruction on Puerto Rico. This would accomplish the repairs Puerto Rico desperately needs, but would not jeopardize the military's crisis response potential.
We must remember that the military is neither a social welfare agency nor a government-funded construction firm. It is a war-fighting entity specifically orientated to serve in high-threat environments. Puerto Rico needs the government's help, but beyond a short-term crisis response effort, the military is not the appropriate means of action.