By Danielle DeSimone
When the fifth-strongest tropical storm in recorded history made landfall in a U.S. Commonwealth, the U.S. Armed Forces were ready to help – and so was the USO.
On Oct. 24, 2018, Typhoon Yutu hit the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian, where 52,000 U.S. citizens and nationals currently live. The tropical storm left catastrophic damage in its wake. Most homes and businesses were destroyed from either the storm itself or from flooding, trees were torn up by their roots, roads impassable and there were no utilities – electricity, water and internet were completely wiped out.
As soon as the storm passed, service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and the Guam National Guard were immediately deployed to the islands to begin relief and recovery efforts.
However, conditions were tough. On Saipan, more than 500 service members bedded down in an abandoned hotel, while in Tinian, many units were in tents. Water and electricity was scarce throughout the entire island, and there were no flights or ocean cargo ships going to either island to deliver goods. Without internet, residents and service members alike were cut off from their friends and family as they continued relief efforts.
In response to the military mobilization to Saipan and Tinian, the USO Pacific team mobilized as well. Just over one week after Typhoon Yutu made landfall, USO Guam was able to arrange flights, cargo assistance and ground transportation that was otherwise not available to other organizations. USO shipments arrived, including USO Care Packages, snacks, water, coolers, microwaves and entertainment equipment. The USO also worked around the clock to ensure their on-site team would have access to internet on the island. By Nov. 10, USO staff and supplies were at the ready, and a temporary USO lounge was opened in an abandoned hotel on Saipan.
Service members receive USO Care Packages while deployed to Saipan and Tinian for Typhoon Yutu relief efforts.
Service members enjoy a moment of relaxation in the temporary USO center built on the island of Saipan.
Service members deployed to Tinian for Typhoon Yutu enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, courtesy of the USO.
This temporary USO lounge served as a site of relief and relaxation from the deployed service members on the island. Aside from having a clean, dry space to spend downtime in, service members also had access to board games, television, coffee, water, snacks and Wi-Fi so that they could remain connected to family and friends at home.
The USO is committed to keeping service members connected to home in other ways as well. While units continued in their relief efforts throughout the month of November, the USO also provided service members with a full Thanksgiving meal on Tinian, along with fun games with prizes and giveaways.
The Northern Mariana Islands continue to recover from Typhoon Yutu, but service members began leaving in mid-December and made it home just in time for the holidays.