Okinawa troops played key role in Red Cross' Saipan relief effort
If you lived in the Pacific during the summer of 2018, one word probably comes to mind - Typhoons. During last year’s storm season, the Pacific islands were tormented by what felt like typhoon after typhoon. In October, while residents and military personnel on Okinawa were still reeling from the devastation left by Typhoon Trami and later Typhoon Kong-Rey, another small Pacific island was bracing for impact. Super Typhoon Yutu made landfall over Saipan on Sunday, October 25th, and was recorded as the strongest typhoon to pass over the island.
The island of Saipan is part of the Northern Mariana Island chain. Measuring 14 miles (23 km) long and 5 miles (8km) across at its widest point, this small island was no match for Typhoon Yutu. The Category 5 cyclone flattened houses and left thousands without power for weeks. Despite the destruction, the people of Saipan remained resilient.
Meanwhile, on Okinawa, Marc Acosta, Matthew Douthit, and De’Quinn Cooper were preparing for an imminent disaster deployment to the small island. In order to deploy, the Red Cross volunteers used personal leave - knowing the valuable impact they would have on the small island's community. These volunteers are all members of the Kadena Station Disaster Action Team.
Leveraging their military experience, these Red Cross volunteers led distribution efforts on Saipan. From assembling relief kits, delivering the kits from house-to-house, and managing the challenging logistics of this operation, the three worked like a "well-oiled machine."
Douthit, a Senior Airman in the 18th Munitions Squadron, focused on best practices to ensure effective distribution of materials in the stressful environment; one example is how they placed items in a staging area to allow for forklift access.
With an additional focus on logistics and operational risk management (ORM), the volunteers from Kadena continued to improve relief processes. Cooper relied on his prior military experience as well. “The unique thing about my job in the military was being part of a squadron based on contingency readiness - disaster interment, food preparation, distribution. We were trained to be fully operational in the event of an emergency. And those were principles I applied while in Saipan," he said.
Like Douthit and Cooper, Acosta’s military experience brought value to the relief efforts in Saipan. Acosta, a Staff Sergeant in the 18 EMS, reflected on previous readiness training as well as communication and leadership skills. “A part of your readiness is being resilient and being able to adapt,” he recalled, “Sometimes you are on the spot, and you have to make a decision quickly on how to proceed.”
The teams faced several challenges during their time in Saipan. Downed power lines, hot and humid conditions, coupled with logistical challenges all led to a stressful environment at times. Employing ORM, the team weighed risks and opportunities, which allowed them to be successful while also ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
Acosta, Douthit, and Cooper made up one of five teams that distributed goods to those affected by the storm. They worked between 9-14 hours per day, reaching 300-400 homes - providing food, water, hygiene kits and comforting gifts to small children.
In one instance, the team noticed a metal sign asking the Red Cross and FEMA for help. “We put two and two together and decided to explore the path,” recalled Cooper. The path ultimately led to about 15 residents, all of whom required medical attention. The team was able to get them the help they needed and returned a second time to bring additional supplies.
“The residents were incredibly grateful for the Red Cross’s presence in Saipan,” recalls Douthit. Even more, their willingness to help each other during this time in need was contagious. A group of youth volunteers also joined the Red Cross to assist with distribution and relief efforts.
For the Kadena volunteers, this deployment to Saipan was a rewarding experience, and they all hope to return to this island in the future. Reflecting on their interactions with those affected, it is clear that both parties had influence on each other. While the Red Cross provided relief, the people of Saipan graciously accepted the assistance and in return were welcoming hosts to the volunteers. Douthit explained,“They show that unity still exists in times of hardship.”
The American Red Cross responds to an emergency every 8 minutes. We provide food, shelter, comfort, and care for families affected by major disasters such as fire, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The Disaster Action Team (DAT) is a team of trained volunteers who respond to emergencies in their community.
To join your local Disaster Action Team in Okinawa, visit www.americanredcrosskadena.com or contact the Kadena Station Red Cross.