Typhoon connects distant family members

Oleai Elementary School first-grade teacher Ernestina Agulto, left, receives donated books on Dec. 11, 2018, from U.S. Army Lt. Col. Richard Barcinas, right, a middle school teacher in Guam and a soldier with the 9th Mission Support Command, U.S. Army Reserve, currently assigned to Task Force-West, at OES on Saipan. Through Super Typhoon Yutu recovery efforts, Agulto and Barcinas discovered their family relationship dating back three generations, when Agulto’s great grandmother and Barcinas’ great grandfather, both siblings came from Guam to Saipan.
(U.S. ARMY STAFF SGT. JAMES KENNEDY BENJAMIN)

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and super typhoons can sometimes separate families from each other. In the case of Super Typhoon Yutu, a Category 5 storm that hit the Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands in late October 2018 and was recorded as the strongest storm to ever hit U.S. soil since the 1930s, it brought two family members together.

Lt. Col. Richard Barcinas, assigned to the 9th Mission Support Command, U.S. Army Reserve, flew from Guam to Saipan and was staged in the early hours before Super Typhoon Yutu made landfall in the CNMI.

As an emergency preparedness liaison officer for 9th MSC, he was assigned to Task Force-West where he would carry out his EPLO duties for the duration of the response and recovery efforts.

Almost two months later, while conducting Defense Support of Civil Authorities on Saipan, he was connected with a distant relative.

“I found out from one of our soldiers that I had a relative here,” said Barcinas, a native of Guam. “We were able to connect and that was when we learned how we are related.”

Ernestina Agulto, a first-grade teacher at Oleai Elementary School, Saipan, and Barcinas learned more about their ancestry dating back three generations.

Barcinas, also a teacher for a Guam middle school, said their great-grandparents are siblings.

“My great-grandfather and her great-grandmother both came from Guam to Saipan,” Barcinas said.

The two cousins decided to do a “read aloud” for first-grade students at OES.

Four first-grade teachers gathered their students in the first period of school to listen to Barcinas talk about his military career and his experience of supporting Yutu recovery efforts. Afterward, Barcinas read a book called ‘Slowly, slowly, slowly’ said the sloth by Eric Carle.

Barcinas stressed to the student the importance of slowing down sometimes in life.

“Sometimes doing things slowly allows us to reconnect with life,” Barcinas said. “For instance this storm. After the storm, life slowed for many,” highlighting no power, phones, or internet. “It was in that moment that we turned to one another…helped each other.”

The students and teachers enjoyed the “read aloud” from Barcinas.

“It was great having Richard come and read to our students,” Agulto said. “Having this situation on our island was kind of depressing,” referring to students missing more than one month of school. “Him [Barcinas] reading a story helped brighten up their day.”

His passion for learning and education prompted him to take it a step further than to just read to the students. Barcinas donated several children’s books for the class.

“We should all slow down and appreciate the finer things in life …,” Barcinas said, “each other.” (Staff Sgt. James Kennedy Benjamin)

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