Army Reserve Soldier supports emergency operations after Super Typhoon Yutu

By Capt. Jeku Arce | U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command | Dec. 18, 2018

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — Shortly after Super Typhoon Yutu struck the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Maj. Michael Madsen was called upon to provide legal advice to the federally coordinated relief effort. 

On Oct. 24, the Category 5 hurricane-equivalent storm made landfall on the U.S. territory in the Pacific, leaving death and destruction in its path. Its 180-mph winds tore off roofs, collapsed houses and tore down power lines. When Yutu passed over the islands of Saipan and Tinian, it knocked out power to more than 50,000 residents. It’s one of the strongest storms on record to ever hit the islands. 

Initially, National Guard troops from nearby Guam assisted with relief efforts, bringing in food, water, tarps and other supplies, according to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, who led the mission. 

Disasters like this happen fast, said Madsen, a judge advocate with the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command’s 87th Legal Operations Detachment, who mobilized in late-October with the Hawaii-based 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

“People are suffering. These are usually very high-visibility events that are heavily scrutinized, so decisions need to be made quickly,” said Madsen, a native of Parker, Colorado. “It is essential for the legal adviser to help find an alternate solution when the answer is otherwise ‘no’ and to do so quickly.”

On Oct. 26, President Donald Trump declared a major disaster, allowing federal aid to assist the region and bringing federal agency and military personnel support for assessment, response and recovery efforts. The 303rd is part of the 9th Mission Support Command of Honolulu. The received a request to support from the FEMA Region VIII Defense Coordinating Officer and Defense Coordinating Element in Saipan. 

Madsen is no stranger to offering his legal expertise to federal relief efforts. In 2017, he helped provide legal assistance during post-Hurricane Maria operations in Puerto Rico. In 2018, he supported post-Hurricane Florence efforts in South Carolina.

Despite the different locations, his role remains the same: support FEMA.

“The legal adviser needs to help [military] leaders fight the instinct to take [the lead] and to remain within our legal boundaries,” said Madsen. “Helping people to remember command relationships and left and right limits is critical, especially with the unique command structure in a DSCA environment, the presence of Title 10 and National Guard personnel and multiple federal agencies.

Madsen, a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, provided legal assistance to federal authorities, but also took time in Saipan to support U.S. Soldiers mobilized from Guam and Hawaii. 

“DSCA missions come up very quickly and Soldiers don't necessarily have time to get all of their affairs in order before they leave,” said Madsen.

Maj. Tanga “TJ” Bernal from the 9th MSC and Capt. Robert Ayres of the 303rd MEB, both U.S. Army Reserve judge advocates, also deployed to Saipan to assist, Madsen said.

The 87th LOD is a subordinate unit of USAR-LC. USAR-LC, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, exercises mission command and control of trained and ready legal forces across 104 cities in 43 states in the continental U.S., Puerto Rico, and Europe. USAR-LC is a one-star command of over 1,700 Soldiers that controls the operations of 28 Legal Operations Detachments providing multifunctional legal support to commanders, Soldiers, and family members in support of military operations.

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