Dec 2, 2013 -- PHILIPPINES - The Republic of the Philippines was struck by Typhoon Haiyan Nov. 7, bringing with it some of the most damaging winds and rain in recorded history. The storm impacted millions of people, and left hundreds of thousands homeless in desperate need of assistance.
Since the storm struck, militaries and volunteers from across the world have assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Government of the Philippines to evacuate homeless citizens looking to travel to safety.
The role of U.S. military forces during any foreign humanitarian assistance event is to rapidly respond with support to help mitigate human suffering and prevent further loss of life and mitigate greater property damage. The first stop for the majority of people being evacuated by Marine aircraft during Operation Damayan is Villamor Air Base in the capital city of Manila.
Yet the journey to safety and peace of mind may not end when they arrive at Villamor. Upon arrival, evacuees are triaged to determine their health status and care needs.
Medical staff with the AFP, U.S. Navy and countless volunteers process approximately 2,000 evacuees daily at Villamor, according to Lt. Cmdr. Eduardo M. Jimenez, the medical planner for 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force, currently in support of Joint Task Force 505.
“Casualty evacuations are part of the most important thing in any type of mission,” said Jimenez, who was born in the Philippines.
It takes both the U.S. personnel and AFP working together to ensure everyone who needs medical attention receives the appropriate care.
The AFP assists people who needed medical attention to the ambulance if necessary and the U.S. service members provided any needed support, according to Jimenez.
“We had multiple (injured people) coming in today, and I was out on the flight line coordinating to get the ambulances to the aircraft,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Jay Elliott, the operations chief for 3rd MEB and native of Bellows Falls, Vt.
The crew chief of the ambulance gave one of the injured persons his cell phone so he could call his wife and arrange plans to link up with her after she arrived on a later flight, according to Elliott.
“There have been six different times I have carried people out of planes since arriving here,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher E. Pring, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 4, assigned to 3rd MEB, currently in support of JTF-505. “I have never been able to help this many people before, and after doing it for the first time, it has been a humbling experience. The ability to see someone smile when you smile, it feels amazing,” said Pring, a native of Tacoma, Wash.
Members of the AFP greatly appreciate the assistance the international community is providing to their country.
“The Marines are able to help us transport all of the people who are in need here,” said Pvt. Lanaque R. Damilo, a security guard with the 1305th Community Defense Group, Army Reserve Command, 501st Battalion, 15th Infantry Division, Philippine Army.
Working alongside the AFP has also had a significant positive impact on the Marines involved in Operation Damayan.
“Some of the people who come through here have lost everything they have ever known to the typhoon and they come out of the planes with a smile on their face because they are happy to see us willing to help,” said Pring. “I know they would do the same thing for me, and that right there makes it all worth it.”