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Seabee Family Devastated by California Fire While on Deployment

Story by Brian Lamar, Naval Construction Battalion Center Public Affairs

Construction Electrician 2nd Class Jeromy Harris. (Courtesy Photo)

For Construction Electrician 2nd Class Jeromy Harris, deploying to the South Pacific to help the people of Tinian Island recover from Super typhoon Yutu, the 2nd strongest typhoon to ever hit a U.S. Territory has been an adventure and a fulfilling worthy cause.

With his team of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 Seabees deployed from Gulfport, Mississippi on a special humanitarian mission, he has thrown his efforts into helping the islanders rebuild.

Just like any typical deployment, Harris has experienced challenges while away from family. This time though, the challenges are the stuff of nightmares.

Harris had already settled into a routine on deployment, which included checking news outlets online to see what was happening on the mainland. That’s when a lump caught in Harris’ throat.

“I saw that the fires in California were growing on the news and when I messaged my aunt she told me that she was already evacuated and safe,” Harris explained.

Aircrew and support from the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California accomplished 4 retardant drops between November 13-14, 2018 over the Woolsey Fire just a few miles east of their home base. (California Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Wright)

 

Harris’ mother, great grandmothers and great aunt all lived in a home in Paradise, Calif. On Nov. 8th, a forest fire started and within 10 minutes of notification of the fire from local authorities, Harris’ mother was forced to evacuate. In that ten minutes she could only grab her purse and vital medication and run next door to help her grandmother into their car.

“My great aunt, also at the time, was in a rush. She woke up her husband and my family started making their way an hour north up to Sattley, Calif.,” said Harris.

During the family’s harrowing trek North, all they could think about was their pets they were forced to leave at home with the hope that they survive.

The family made it North to safety and checked into a hotel exhausted. The family is still waiting to hear when they can go back to see what’s left of their homes. They have been notified that their whole city has burned down along with their home.

With Harris being on deployment so far from home, he is selflessly determined to be resilient without letting it affect his mission to help the people of Tinian.

“Its my job, I leave all my stress for my off-time when I can listen to music and be able to relax. We have a lot of work here to do, and I love helping the people of Tinian,” said Harris.

Knowing that he shouldn’t bear the burden of the stress of this catastrophe alone, Harris is using his chain of command and peers to stay sane.

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, det. Tinian pose for a group photo at the Tinian Seabee Memorial. Service members from Joint Region Marianas and Indo-Pacific Command are providing Department of Defense support to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ civil and local officials as part of the FEMA-supported Super Typhoon Yutu recovery efforts, Nov. 6 2018. (Photo by MCC Matthew R. White)

 

“I’ve reached out to my Chiefs and they have worked hard to help me whether it be calling my folks at home, getting on the internet to message my family, and being available to talk to and ask questions about anything. They have been great!,” Harris said.

When Harris completes his tour overseas, he has more work to do. His plans include quickly finding his own place to live, buying his first car and once that is done, he will take leave and head out West to take care of his loved ones.


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