SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands—A small fleet of ships with Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron 3 recently played a different role assisting the people of Saipan recover from the destruction of Typhoon Soudelor, a Category 2 typhoon that devastated the island on Aug. 2.
MPSRON 3, which typically anchors four or five ships off Saipan and provides heavy equipment and supplies for the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, and U.S. Air Force supporting contingencies and operations in the Pacific, provided a different type of support during Soudelor—they supported delivery of much needed water and ice to the citizens of Saipan when all public services on the island were inoperable.
“It’s heartbreaking. I survived Hurricane Iniki on Kauai (Hawaii) many years ago,” said Karen A. Reyes, captain of USNS Charlton (T-AKR 314), which is anchored off Saipan. “The devastation reminds of me what we went through on that island.”
Reyes has sailed around the Pacific for more than two decades and has spent the past two years sailing off the waters near Saipan. As soon as news of Typhoon Soudelor’s destruction spread, her priority was to provide as much assistance as possible.
“I am an island girl at heart. I do love Saipan like a second home,” said Reyes. “We have been supplying ice and the potable water since the first launches started running after Typhoon Soudelor.”
Throughout the decades of MPSRON 3 presence, the mariners have developed a friendship and a sense of community with the people of Saipan. For many of the mariners, Saipan is not just another port of call, it’s their home. When Typhoon Soudelor hit, members throughout Military Sealift Command felt the pain.
The crews of USNS Charlton, USNS Soderman (T-AKR 317) and USNS Dahl (T-AKR 312) spent countless hours supplying Saipan residents with fresh water and ice, which was desperately needed following the storm. Ships in the squadron have the capability to create upwards of 20,000 gallons of potable water per ship per day.
Additionally, a working party from the USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009) went ashore to help the Brilliant Star Montessori School on Navy Hill here. Fourteen crew members participated, including the ship’s captain and various mariners. They repaired the electrical conduit connections on two buildings where fallen trees had pulled the connection down breaking the conduit support and wire connections. The crew also assisted in repairs to the potable water connections to three buildings. The school was able to open its doors on Aug. 19 due to the assistance of USNS PFC Dewayne T. Williams’ crew.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the mariners who worked side-by-side with our Saipan brothers and sisters to help in the delivery of those needed supplies and support,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Robert “Rocky” Rochford, commodore of MPSRON 3. “I believe their actions on those subsequent days really eased some of the hardship that was apparent islandwide.”
For added support, MV MAJ Bernard F. Fisher (T-AK 4396) left Guam on Aug. 21 carrying a group of U.S. Army divers who will assist the U.S. Coast Guard in ensuring the approach channel and harbor are clear of any hazards that may have sunk during the storm.
Through his time as commodore, Rochford has developed a relationship with the community of Saipan. To him and his staff, the small Pacific island was more than just an anchorage, it was their second home. Rochford immediate called upon the service members at Guam Naval Base for help. With the help of U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew Forester, chaplain, MPSRON 3 led a typhoon relief drive for a battered women shelter in Saipan that was severely crippled by Soudelor.
The supplies were transported from Guam to Saipan on the USNS Dahl. The rebuilding of Saipan is going to take some time and MPSRON 3 ships and crews will continue to support those efforts.
MPSRON 3, operating in the western Pacific, maintains tactical control of the 12 ships carrying afloat prepositioned U.S. military cargo for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Air Force. The squadron’s mission is to enable force from the sea by providing swift and effective transportation of vital equipment and supplies for designated operations.