TINIAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands --
Citizens of Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, say Exercise Valiant Shield 2014 is boosting their economy, creating part-time jobs and building lasting relationships.
About 450 members from the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Guam National Guard are on Tinian as of Sept. 18 for VS14. U.S. forces use Tinian’s airfields for multiple exercises a year.
With this relatively large increase to the island’s population of less than 4,000, impacts to the community are arguably more perceivable than in more populated areas.
“It really boosts our sales,” said Lot Bunao, manager of J.C. Café on Tinian. “It’s really a chain reaction and boosts our entire economy. For example, the food we sell to them is made from stuff we buy locally at the stores here.”
J.C. Café, a popular dining spot on island, has temporary food stands next to two of the larger remote military camps on island. They also travel to the smaller camps selling food from their vehicles. Other businesses offer rides to their establishments.
“The Marines are very friendly and appreciative of the service we are rendering them,” said Bunao. “I’m receiving a lot of good remarks.”
Bunao says it does more for the community than provide increased income for the businesses.
“It also creates jobs,” said Bunao. “We normally have two part-time workers. With the presence of the military, it adds five or more part-time workers just for us.”
The Marines are collaterally helping the infrastructure of the island too, said Chief Warrant Officer Jeremy Pelham, an engineer equipment officer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. His squadron opened a nearly impassable section of 8th Avenue on Tinian with earth-moving equipment during the last few weeks.
“It’s a two-lane road, but the jungle had encroached on one side,” said Pelham, a New Market, Tennessee, native. “We needed to push that back because we have two-way traffic there for this exercise.”
It’s not all business for the locals, according to Sgt. Maj. Grady Tunnell, the sergeant major for MWSS-171.
“It’s not only local businesses picking up the Marines from the field,” said Tunnell. “Local citizens come pick them up just to have fun hanging out at the beach with barbecues.”
So far, the service members have visited four local schools and community centers during community relations events.
Ramon M. Dela Cruz, mayor of the Municipality of Tinian and Aguiguan said he is planning a goodwill softball game with a mix of civilians and service members on each side.
“We are also planning on hosting a barbecue or something to get all the community together with the Marines,” said Dela Cruz. “It creates excitement in the community when they come. The Marines have been very supportive and well behaved.”
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