Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle
Marriages weather a myriad of storms. For Coast Guard couple Chief Warrant Officer Wilfred Thomas and Chief Warrant Officer Jennifer Thomas, storms are what bring them together.
Typhoon Soudelor passed directly over Saipan as a category 2 equivalent storm recently, causing widespread damage in its path with winds over 90 mph. Once the storm had relented, the Thomases and several Coast Guard crews had their work cut out for them.
The Thomases are married but aren’t geographically co-located. Jennifer Thomas is currently stationed at Coast Guard Sector Guam while her husband Wilfred Thomas is stationed at Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment on Saipan and while it’s only a 20-minute flight or 130-mile boat ride, for them it feels more like 1,000 miles. With a little mix of misfortunate and luck, Jennifer and Wilfred Thomas were briefly reunited. Twenty-six days to be exact.
Both of them are marine inspectors and were tasked to conduct assessments on all damaged passenger vessels, grounded vessels, aids to navigation, pollution, marinas and work on pre-typhoon investigations related to causes and analysis.
“I think we were very productive together,” said Wilfred Thomas. “We effectively combined over 40 years of our experience and local knowledge and pursued our objectives. The port of Saipan is the life line for the island and the end results included no major pollution, Saipan harbor being reopened for deliveries of emergency supplies and goods and tourism could be up and running again. We were able to find a common ground between work and trying to spend a little quality time together.”
Originally from the small island of Palau in the Federated States of Micronesia, Wilfred Thomas explained that working in Saipan was incredibly rewarding and felt the important connection with the local maritime community.
The Thomases worked day and night alongside other agencies to help restore the Port of Saipan so that the relief goods and supplies could be delivered to the island within a few days after the typhoon. Together they conducted assessments of a combination of 16 damaged fuel barges, motor vessels, commercial fishing vessels, fuel tanks, and shipping containers as well a conducting damage assessments for local aids to navigation.
“Everywhere we went, people were always thanking the Coast Guard for our help and expressed their gratitude,” said Jennifer Thomas. “That’s priceless.”
The typhoon has come and gone and while some relief efforts continue in Saipan, life has relatively returned to ops normal for the Thomases. This includes being separated once again.
“We’re very fortunate to have merged the Coast Guard ways into our lives without any major difficulties,” said Wilfred Thomas. “However, one thing that we seem to find more challenging is the daily interaction with our children.”
While the Coast Guard does its best to relocate both military spouses together, sometimes being stationed relatively close is all that can be done. At the end of the day, the Thomases make it work through their strong relationship with one another, their communication skills and their incredible dedication to the service and Coast Guard ethos.
“The Coast Guard has the same values I’ve learned from my upbringing to be selfless, work hard, be honest and humble,” said Jennifer Thomas. “We are very passionate about our jobs, serving the community and most importantly, helping each other succeed.”