SAIPAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands - Despite their own personal disaster and hardship, Pacific region Army Reserve Soldiers are helping their friends and neighbors, joining the Indo-Pacific and Joint Region Marianas Super Typhoon Yutu recovery. The direct hit from the Category 5+ storm devastated the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
In 2015, many residents of Saipan felt they were not prepared for Typhoon Soudelor, which devastated the Mariana Islands, leaving many residents without electricity and running water for months.
Since then, the locals have learned not to take these warnings lightly. But no matter how proactive they were this time around, nothing could prepare them for what was to come from the category 5+ storm.
Local and off-island Soldiers with the 9th Mission Support Command continue to support local and federal government agencies' in the lead of ongoing recovery relief efforts in the Marianas in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu.
"Some of the primary missions that [Task Force West] are conducting right now are debris clearing operations for both the main roads and secondary roads," said Lt. Col. Bryan Klatt, the deputy commander for all U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers in the Marianas. Klatt is also the commander for Theater Support Group - Detachment Marianas, 9th MSC.
Other missions the 9th MSC supports are reception of DoD personnel arriving and departing the airport and seaport, unloading and loading humanitarian disaster relief (HDR) supplies upon arrival, and assisting with distribution of HDRs at the five locations, Klatt said.
Army Staff Sgt. Raymond DeleonGuerrero, like a dozen other native Soldiers, voluntarily mobilized a few days after the storm to begin mission assignments. He serves as the platoon sergeant for about 50 Soldiers assigned to the Saipan Mayor's Office and is a Soldier with Echo Company, 100th Battalion, 442nd Inf. Regt.
"The days are hot," DeleonGuerrero said as he described the daily duties for his team, which was evident from his sunburnt face and the tan markings left by his eye wear. "We report at six in the morning, do our accountability, head to the field, and end at around seven at night."
Since the start of the debris cleanup, his team, lead by the mayor's staff, has cleared debris from the central part of the island, working their way to the southern end, which received the worst damage from Yutu. They separate the green waste, lumber and resident debris.
Many mobilized Soldiers will not be doing their actual jobs, according to Klatt.
"We have infantrymen, quartermasters, military police and engineers doing debris cleanup," Klatt said. "It is going to be a lot of manual labor, clearing routes, ensuring the people of Saipan have the ability to get in and around the island."
Like thousands of residents here, DeleonGuerrero, his wife and four children were heavily impacted by the storm.
"We lost our entire house," DeleonGuerrero said. "The entire roof got blown away. Most of the stuff inside it got damaged."
He, along with other displaced locals, continue to take refuge with extended families, neighbors or at temporary public shelters.
"The house we are in now...it hasn't been occupied in a while," DeleonGuerrero said. "Some of the kids would take one of the camping tents and sleep outside because it is too hot."
They do not have power, running water or a generator, he said.
DeleonGuerrero said that his family is resilient, which is why he chooses to work rather than stay home to do cleanup there.
"My wife has gone through two deployments with me, so she's pretty much got it," he said. "We set up a system where I can work, and she can take care of home in this type of situation. At the end of all this, we will have to rebuild our home, so I have to make the money for the family."
Despite all of this, DeleonGuerrero comes to work determined to complete the mission. The Soldiers and local citizens are what keep him going each day, he said.
"The feeling is unique out there...when you hear a lot of these civilians saying, 'thank you', 'we really appreciate it,' some of them break down in tears when they see us," DeleonGuerrero said.
For Klatt, who has responded to other natural disasters in the U.S., being a part of this operation is amazing.
"I am honored to be working with such motivated and big-hearted Soldiers and to be a part of this," Klatt said. "I find it keeps my energy level up day-to-day to continue these long hours to help our folks because I know there is some real need here. I really feel like we are doing something super important here."
Service members from Joint Region Marianas and Indo-Pacific Command are providing Department of Defense support to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands' civil and local officials as part of the FEMA-supported Typhoon Yutu recovery efforts.