PORTLAND, Ore. -- As thousands of Puerto Ricans continue to struggle two weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed the island, a local culinary student and veteran is putting off school to do what he can.

“The first thing that ran through my mind was a few friends,” said Brian Myers after watching news reports out of Puerto Rico.

Myers, a retired Navy chief and linguist, served alongside Puerto Ricans overseas. He says he still keeps in touch with them. “As soon as I saw it, I knew I was headed down there.”

Myers then decided to buy a plane ticket and “figure it out after that.” He says he’s hoping to eventually get paired up with Team Rubicon, a disaster response veterans service organization. Myers says the group has members currently in Puerto Rico helping out.

“People are struggling just to find food and water,” said Myers of the crisis. “They’re Americans to me. Especially the guys I served with. They’re my brothers and sisters.”

In order to serve others, Myers will first have to put his career aspirations on hold. For the last six months, Myers has studied at Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland. A desire to become a baker and pastry chef led the San Diego native to the Rose City and OCI.

“Watching people smile when you set a plate in front of them. That’s amazing. I really dig that,” he said.

Next week, Myers was set to begin an externship at a local restaurant through OCI. The externship was an important part of completing his degree and gaining cooking experience. While it may seem like a sacrifice, Myers says he’s used to these situations.

“It wasn’t that strange for me. I’m looking at it like a deployment,” he said. “And every time I deployed, I had to put everything on hold anyways. This is not a strange feeling. It’s something very easy for me to do.”

Myers added that he’s not sure how long he’ll be in Puerto Rico, but says that OCI staff have been very supportive of his decision.

Myers is now planning on flying out of Portland on Saturday. He’ll first stop in Florida before making his way to Puerto Rico. While he’s ideally hoping to cook for those in need, he says he’s open to doing whatever helps.

“I can pick up a hammer too. I don’t care,” said Myers, chuckling.