Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Wenhan Fan, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4
As the COVID-19 virus began to devastate the world in 2019, the small pacific island of Tinian began to implement precautions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Since arriving on the island of Tinian at the beginning of 2021, Seabees attached to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4 have been assisting the local Tinian Government with various community and medical operations.
In 2020, Tinian’s government implemented travel restrictions and procedures helping to limit the virus to 135 confirmed positive cases and only two deaths. With travel and border restrictions in place, locals began to feel the residual effects of decreased supplies and food being imported to the small island community. As locals struggle with COVID-19 and the effects of an economy reliant on tourism and imports, the CNMI Office of Internal Affairs and Commonwealth Grant Management Office began to apply for funding to assist with much needed food distribution. On Feb. 16, Tinian representative for the Commonwealth Grant Management Office, Dorthy San Nicolas, organized the COVID-19 Food Distribution.
After planning for months, applying for funding, purchasing food and community sign up, a drive-through distribution was made available to Tinian citizens. More than 20 volunteers, including eight Seabees from NMCB 4, distributed food and supplies to 800 families. The volunteers helped to deliver 40,000 lbs of rice, 17,600 lbs of frozen chicken, 800 cases of instant noodles, 2,400 cases of canned tuna, 2,400 packs of luncheon meat, and 3,200 cans of Vienna sausage.
“To limit contact on the day of the distribution, we implemented a two lane drive through where residents would stay in their vehicles, while volunteers loaded food into the cars for them,” Nicolas said. “The help provided by the Seabees and the other volunteers made this day a success.”
In addition to food distribution assistance, Seabees with NMCB 4 helped erect tents at the Tinian Health Center (THC), which will serve as a community vaccine distribution center over the next several weeks.
Following CDC guidelines of vaccinating in priority phases, the THC began its first round of vaccinations on Feb. 13. Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Elliott Pippen, attached to NMCB 4, assisted local health professionals in administering the vaccine to more than 100 members of the Tinian community. Flown in from Saipan the day prior to being administered, 273 first-round doses and 128 second- round doses have already been administered with an estimated 100 doses scheduled to be delivered every week.
“Vaccinations are currently in phase 1b, including infrastructure workers/essential employees, government contractors, and government employees.” said Tinian Health Center’s resident director, Rodney Cabarles.
NMCB 4 is forward-deployed throughout the Indo-Pacific region ready to support major combat operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and to provide general engineering and civil support to U.S. and joint forces.