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OKINAWA, Japan - Sixty Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 deployed to Tinian to assume charge of ongoing Tinian Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) relief efforts on the island from NMCB-1 during a relief in place/transfer of authority ceremony, Jan. 9.
Tinian and Saipan are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and were devastated by Super Typhoon Yutu, which struck Oct. 24, 2018. Super Typhoon Yutu was the second-strongest storm system to hit U.S. territory in recorded history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Many of the homes and structures on the islands were destroyed or severely damaged as a result of the natural disaster, and many were left without power and running water. In response, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) stood up Task Force-West, divided into Task Group Saipan and Task Group Tinian, to conduct DSCA relief efforts in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“I feel incredibly excited and honored to be part of this mission,” said Lt. Lawrence Burkart, officer in charge of NMCB-3, Det. Tinian. “An unfortunate tragedy happened to the people of Tinian, and with us being Seabees deployed to the Indo Pacific Region, humanitarian aid and disaster relief are in our hierarchy of priorities … so it is something we have all trained and volunteered for.”
NMCB-1, along with other INDOPACOM units, conducted route clearance of 64 miles of road, built more than 150 FEMA-provided tents for families whose homes became unlivable, and produced more than 54,000 gallons of potable water during the relief efforts. Following the debris cleanup, the unit focused on roof repairs in which they assessed over 300 households and executed 122 repairs.
“Thank you so much for coming this distance to be America’s force that was able to help this community bring its services back online,” said Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, commander of Joint Region Marianas and Task Force West. “Your efforts here and the work that you did, the equipment that you brought, and the spirit that you gave to this community was appreciated deeply by the mayor. I want to thank you for approaching your work as though these were your own families.”
In delivering his remarks, Ralph Torres, governor of the CNMI, thanked the task force for delivering aid to those in need.
“Folks, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the hard work and dedication and leaving your family to come here and providing a normalcy for other families you don’t even know or never even met,” said Torres. “Your work is definitely appreciated.”
NMCB-3, Det. Tinian will take over the recovery and roof repair mission in an effort to restore many of the resident’s homes to habitable conditions.
“Many of the people in Tinian can’t live in their homes right now,” said Burkart. “The roofs have either been completely or mostly destroyed, and with the frequent rain storms that this island gets, the residents are having an extremely tough time rebuilding their lives. We hope that putting roofs over their heads will give them the foundation they need to help return to life as they knew it.”
Not every single destroyed roof on the island can be repaired. If the support structures vital to stability are not present, a roof cannot be placed. The Seabees will identify structures that are safe to repair, and in a structural condition that will be able to house residents following a repair. The Seabees plan to conduct expedient, high quality construction to return the identified structures to a state that can sufficiently shelter the residents.
“Our mission is two-fold,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christian Auger, NMCB-3’s operations officer. “First, and most importantly, we must provide the necessary structures and accommodations to relieve the suffering that was caused by Super Typhoon Yutu. The second part is to continue to develop and demonstrate the skills necessary to respond to any type of emergency, whether it be a humanitarian mission or a major combat operation, and this mission helps us demonstrate those skills.”
NMCBs are part of the Naval Construction Force and specialize in providing contingency construction, disaster preparation and recovery support, humanitarian assistance, and combat operations support.
“As Seabees, we pride ourselves on the fact that we can build and fight,” said Auger. “Tinian is an opportunity to provide relief and demonstrate our expeditionary construction abilities at the right time, at the right place.”
Military service members from Joint Region Marianas and INDOPACOM continue to provide Department of Defense (DoD) support to FEMA, and work with Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands’ civil and local officials for Typhoon Yutu recovery efforts. The DoD mission is expected to continue until the critical needs are met or FEMA officials have implemented the appropriate mix of civil and contracted solutions to allow them to continue to lead federal government relief and recovery efforts without DoD support.
The effort is a joint force endeavor that makes up the newly created Task Group Engineer, which employs units from the Navy, Army, and Air Force, and is operationally led by the Army’s 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, based out of Hawaii. Task Group Engineer replaces Task Group Tinian and Task Group Saipan.
NMCB-3 is forward deployed throughout the Indo-Pacific region and United States ready to support major combat operations, theater security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Seabees provide general engineering and civil support to Navy, Marine Corps and joint operational forces globally.