Supermoms in the front line


Editor’s Note: Saipan Tribune reached out to the Department of Public Safety and Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services for this story but there was no response as of press time.

One handles airport security. Another helps bring in goods and supplies the community needs. Another transports those goods, while another one uses them to keep people safe and healthy.

These superwomen are also supermoms, helping the community keep it together while also taking care of their families. As the world celebrates Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 10, here are four moms who, although not in the medical fields, may still be considered to be in the front lines of giving everyone a sense of calm in this “new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commonwealth Ports Authority police officer Wynessa Sonoda Jack with her children. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS)

Going on five years now working at the Commonwealth Ports Authority, Wynessa Sonoda Jack has become quite good at multitasking. She is a Police Officer I, Ports Police Department Timekeeper and Security Access Controller. She describes her work prior to COVID-19 in dispassionate terms: Maintaining compliance with Code of Federal Regulation 1542 that are applicable and mandated under Saipan International Airport’s security plan and to serve and protect the community as well as the traveling public.

During this pandemic, she was reassigned to assist with the COVID-19 community-based testing at the Saipan airport. As a Ports Police officer, her role is to enforce traffic control, crowd control and conduct security checkpoints for entry and exits while ensuring the safety of the community during the testing procedures as regulated by Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. guidelines.

That need to balance the demands of her new role in airport security and being a front-liner, while also raising a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old child is quite challenging and Jack knows one can never make up for any lost time she may have with her children.

“No amount of money, toys, or gifts could make up for the moments you’ve missed because they’re only little once and you can never reverse time, even if you wanted to. The best way I cope with making up for the time I lost would be giving them the time I have before I start my day and the time I have left after every day, no matter how exhausted or consumed I am with work,” she said.

“The one value I would like to pass on to my kids would be being selfless. As a law enforcement officer…the public looks up to us and we are held to a  higher standards, [such] that they tend to forget that we are humans, we make mistakes, we fail, but we get back up and stay in the fight. We risk everything every day when we walk out the door to carry out our duties but without a question in mind because we love what we do,” she added.

To other mothers who are also raising a family and getting through this pandemic, Jack urges them to remember that they are important. “You are loved, you are needed, and you are a hero, no matter what your occupation is. You are a mother first before all else and that is the best title you could ever own,” she said.

Fifteen years of working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made Staging Unit Leader and Ordering Leader Traci Knox an exceptional “doer” and team player in times of natural disasters and calamities. She was part of the response team in the CNMI after Typhoon Soudelor and Super Typhoon Yutu. Knox and her five-member team was in charge of setting up, staging, or receiving commodities from different parts of the world.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Staging Unit Leader and Ordering Leader Traci Knox was part of the response team during Typhoon Soudelor and Super Typhoon Yutu and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

She admits that this was only possible because of the support she has with her parents, when they take care of her son when she gets deployed. “My son is 26 years old now but when he was a child, he had a clear idea of my work in FEMA. Whenever my phone rings, deployment orders usually follow and he is like “Mom! It’s Superwoman Time! Where are you going?” she said. “I am so glad that I have my parents as a support system all these years. After 28 years in the service. My dad is a retired Navy after 28 years so they know the importance of working to help other people and families. …My son would help me pack my suitcase and I always reassured him every time I get deployed,” she added.

Knox, who is from Riverbanks, California, said that deployment time varies—sometimes three days to a month; the longest time she can get deployed is 50 to 52 weeks. “I would always FaceTime with my son, say I love you to each other [and], even though he is grown now, he is my baby and only child I have. …I hope that my son learns the value of hard work, dedication, commitment, and the importance of being a team player in the work that I do,” she said.

Her son actually approached her two months ago to ask her how she would feel if he tries to join FEMA. “I immediately said it is an awesome job because you can help in so many ways…and help your country. …I told him I always have a great experience, especially being deployed to Saipan, because I have met so many families here,” she added.

Knox is set to leave Saipan on Saturday as her work is already done and she hopes to come back, this time not for another calamity but for a vacation. “When I do, I want to explore Tinian because I love the beaches and the water there is amazing. Everybody is always welcoming with open arms. Whether on Saipan, Tinian or Rota, these places are on my vacation list that I will always come back to,” she said.

As a special assistant for Public Transportation of the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority, Alfreda P. Camacho ensures that the goals and objectives for the agency are achieved while also safeguarding its sustainability through grant funds from the Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration.

Alfreda P. Camacho, special assistant for Public Transportation of the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority, says that her son, Jakey, is a big inspiration in her public service career.

Right now, COTA’s role in the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force response efforts is to fulfill any and all transportation needs. That includes transporting passengers arriving at the Saipan airport to the designated quarantine facility site, transporting “Persons Under Investigation” from either the Commonwealth Health Center or home to the isolation facility, and transporting any individual who has recovered and needs to be released back home.

When Camacho relocated back to Saipan in 2009, she immediately landed in public service, from the Department of Commerce to COTA. She had her 4-year-old son Jakey in tow then. That means he has been a big part of Camacho’s journey as a public servant.

“Since he was just a little boy, he has been my ‘partner’ at all work outreach and awareness events, accompanying me to work meetings and spending some weekends at the office when grant season would come around for the program,” she said. “Every typhoon activation, Jakey knew I needed to pack his duffel bag for grandma and grandpa’s house because mommy has to report for work.”

“Over the last 10 years, he has gotten used to my role during these natural disasters that when COTA was activated under the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, Jakey already knew the ‘drill,’” she said.

If there is anything that Camacho wants to pass on to Jakey, it would be what her parents taught her and her siblings: to always respect and show compassion to others, being kind and understanding, always doing what is right even if it is not popular, staying humble and remembering that when you lead with passion and integrity, meaningful outcomes will be the fruit of your labor.

Camacho is engaged to another front-liner, a Commonwealth Ports Authority K9 police officer, and this helps her do her job without regret or issues. “…When he and I are off duty, we try our best to go on family walks with Jakey and our dogs, play catch, bump the volleyball around with him, or swim at the beach to get a little exercise in. …Eating dinner together as a family is a priority. This is where we catch up with one another other, discuss current events, and family matters,” she said.

“Being a mother is a 25/8 job and our motherly instinct is to nurture and protect our children. Just as we naturally do this for our children, we also emulate this in our professional careers, especially now more than ever since the onset of this pandemic. Let us continue to do what we as mothers do best—serve and protect those who we are called to serve in our CNMI community so that we can prevent this pandemic from reaching our children when we come home after every shift to be their mothers,” she added.

Shiela Figueroa, a nurse unit manager of the OB/GYN well baby nursery department, started her career at the Commonwealth Health Center in 2007. During the pandemic, she is also called to be a nurse.

“I am sometimes assigned to do nasal pharyngeal swabbing at the [mass testing site] but, most of the time, my work is at Kanoa Resort to monitor patients,” she said. That includes taking patients’ vital signs, nasal pharyngeal swabbing, collecting samples for testing, and monitoring for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

She also gets assigned to the Pacific Islands Club Saipan quarantine site, where they receive returning residents for quarantine and do PCR testing, collecting samples for testing and monitoring for any signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Shiela Figueroa has been working as nurse at the Commonwealth Health Center since 2007.

Being a mom with these kinds of duties, Figueroa is glad that she has support both from her co-workers and children. “I’m so grateful that I have a supportive Chief Nursing Officer, Renea Raho, and Deputy CNO Evita Kawai as they make sure we have enough time for our family during our days off. If we are too busy and not able to take a day off, front-liners like me do get eight hours per day to work but get enough time to rest and sleep when we get home and be ready for the next day,” she said.

“I’m also lucky to have all-grown up teenagers who knows all household chores and can even cook. Teaching them how to do household chores, like cooking and cleaning, are what makes my responsibility as a mother light,” she added. She believes this also bodes well for her children becoming independent adults in the future.

As a nurse, Figueroa knows that being compassionate and understanding of patients is the nature of her profession. “Patients in sudden isolation feel anxious and helpless, so being there for them makes a difference and mental health counselors at the site help a lot. …Our professional values as a nurse is an extension of our personal values. …We are here to not only take care of ourselves but especially others,” she said.

Her advice to other mothers is to make sure to explain to their children why they have to do what they’re doing, so that they could protect themselves and the community from the virus, especially the man’amko.

She also urges parents, mothers, and pregnant women to always eat healthy, exercise, get enough rest, and to always drink their vitamins to help strengthen their immune system. “Now that we have more time to spend with our family, we should use it wisely and utilize this time to strengthen our bonds with our children, spouse, and significant other,” she added.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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