Military News

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Yokota Airmen shift from exercise to real-world ops and join Operation Damayan

by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs


11/17/2013 - YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan, shifted gears from exercise to real-world humanitarian relief operations as they arrived at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines, to provide tactical airlift support for Operation Damayan, Nov. 16, 2013.

The team of approximately 80 Airmen and three C-130 Hercules were returning to Japan from Exercise Cope South, a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief exercise in Bangladesh, when new orders arrived to join the joint, multinational effort to assist the Philippine government's response to Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.

"This is exactly the kind off mission we train for," said Lt. Col. Jeff Menasco, 36th Airlift Squadron commander. "We can provide versatile humanitarian airlift operations in some of the most austere locations within hours of a mission tasking."

The team is joined by two more Yokota C-130s as well as additional aircrews and support personnel who will augment the airlift mission. In total, five C-130s and more than 90 Yokota personnel will join efforts at Clark, supported by Airmen operating back in Japan.

Yokota Airmen regularly train in local and regional exercises designed to developed and improve their airlift expertise to better respond to contingency situations.

According to the crews joining Operation Damayan, all the rehearsals have led up to this moment and they are eager to put their skills to use.

"We're ready go out there and do our job and help people in need," said 1st Lt. Jon Van Pinxteren, 36th Airlift Squadron navigator. "All the training we've received so far has been for this purpose. It's pretty exciting to say this is what I do."

The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping supplies in remote locations.

"In times of crisis, the C-130 have become an icon of hope to those in need," Menasco said. "No matter what the mission, we deliver in the toughest conditions. We are ready to do whatever we can to help the people of the Philippines as they recover from this disaster."

Exercise Beverly Bulldog 14-1 Night Ops

by Senior Airman Armando A. Schwier-Morales
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


11/17/2013 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The 8th Fighter Wing is testing its wartime mission alongside other 7th Air Force units and supporting organizations with an emphasis on the operational and tactical levels of war during the peninsula-wide exercise Nov. 17, 2013.

Navy P-3C Aircrews Assist Relief Efforts in the Philippines



Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs

PHILIPPINES, Nov. 17, 2013 – U.S. Navy Patrol Squadrons 26 and 62, home-based in Jacksonville, Fla., and currently based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, with Commander, Task Group 72.2, are contributing to disaster relief efforts in the Philippines.

As the typhoon approached the Philippines Nov. 8, these aircrews were placed on alert in preparation for search and rescue missions.

When the government of the Philippines requested assistance and declared a national state of emergency on Nov. 11, the aircrews were able to reposition to the Philippines in just a few hours. Immediately upon arrival, they began working with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which was placed in charge of the U.S. military effort as part of Operation Damayan, to ensure every hour flown provided benefit to disaster relief operations.

The P-3C aircrews have been flying missions over the hardest-hit areas of the Philippines since Nov. 11, assessing damage and searching for populations cut off from sources of food, clean water and medical care.

The geography of the Philippines makes the determination of where to focus relief efforts particularly difficult. The archipelagic nation, comprised of more than 7,000 islands, includes countless remote and isolated populations in desperate need of relief. P-3C aircrews help solve this problem by searching for and reporting high-need areas so rescue and relief efforts can arrive as quickly as possible.

Among the hardest-hit areas is the small island of Homonhan. In the province of East Samar, the 12-mile-long island was directly in the path of Typhoon Haiyan and was devastated by winds that measured more than 200 mph. A CTG 72.2 P-3C was the first aircraft on scene and the first to make contact with those on the ground in Homonhan.

The P-3C mission commander, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jace Dasenbrock of VP-62, described what his crew witnessed on Nov. 12 as they first approached Homonhan Island.

“We arrived on scene at approximately 0400 Zulu time [noon in Philippine Standard Time] and immediately saw devastation throughout the entire island,” Dasenbrock said. “Our first pass around the island saw no sign of life below. Buildings were destroyed, with few structures surviving at all. The only building left intact was the church, which stood on the southeastern edge of the island.

“A sailboat was in a tree about 20 feet off the ground,” he continued. “After a second pass, a few heads popped out. A third pass around the tiny island saw about a hundred residents sending SOS signals. A fourth pass was made to give hope to the survivors. With roads washed out, relief needed to be brought in by air. We were able to identify several areas suitable for helicopters and [MV-22B] Osprey to land.”

This discovery was the first of several like it for the CTG 72.2 aircrews. The information and photographs they collect are sent in-flight to intelligence specialists who collate the products and provide them to the Marines coordinating U.S. military relief efforts on the ground. This enables American and Filipino commanders and government officials to identify and prioritize humanitarian assistance requirements.

Within days of the first P-3C flight over Homonhan Island, the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group repositioned close enough to bring relief to the island’s citizens as well as other communities in the region.

SH-60 Seahawk helicopters and MV-22B tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft fly countless round-trip sorties carrying 20-pound bags of food, water, and medical supplies ashore. The air space has become so crowded with relief aircraft that E-2C Hawkeye aircraft are now flying overhead to direct and de-conflict air traffic. The P-3C and E-2C aircrews are coordinating to pass locations of suitable landing zones as well as locations of more unreached disaster areas to relief aircraft in real time.

The magnitude and wide geographical footprint of the destruction to remote areas like Homonhan Island make restoring infrastructure and rebuilding communities a slow process, but for now the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, with their forward maritime presence in the Asia-Pacific region, are on station bringing needed aid and hope to the people of Homonhan Island and other devastated areas in the Philippines.

The VP-26 Tridents and the VP-62 Broad Arrows were among the first to provide critical information about where to best focus relief efforts in response to this crisis. The commander of CTG-72.2, Cmdr. Mark Sohaney, is extremely proud of the opportunity to support this effort.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Philippine people, and we are honored to help them in their time of need,” Sohaney said. “We are postured to remain as long as the Philippine and U.S. governments need us to."

The people of the Philippines are responding to this setback with their characteristic resilience, aided by the effective measures taken by their government to help prepare them for the storm.

The United States stands strongly beside the Philippines in the midst of this terrible natural disaster.

Marine Expeditionary Unit Embarks for the Philippines



31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Okinawa, Nov. 17, 2013 – Approximately 900 Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, aboard the USS Germantown and USS Ashland dock landing ships are heading for the Philippines to join U.S. and Philippine forces in support of ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts as part of Operation Damayan, which means "lend a helping hand" in Filipino.

"Our condolences are with the people of the Philippines, who have experienced incredible loss as a result this horrific disaster," said Marine Corps Col. John Merna, the 31st MEU’s commanding officer. "The Marines and sailors of the 31st MEU, along with our counterparts of Amphibious Squadron 11, have trained extensively for these types of missions. By working with the (armed forces of the Philippines) during recent exercises, we have built lasting relationships that will better help us to ease the suffering of our Filipino friends."

The 31st MEU recently completed a regularly scheduled patrol of the Asia-Pacific region and was in the midst of unit turnover when the order was received to support Operation Damayan.

Marines from the 3rd MEB, along with supplies and equipment, have already been sent to the affected region with more expected to follow in the coming days.

It has been reported that Typhoon Haiyan has impacted nearly 7 million Filipinos. The storm has destroyed 150,000 homes across the 41 provinces in the Philippines.

President Barack Obama pledged U.S. support to the Philippines on Nov. 14. At that time, he noted, one of the United States’ core principles “is when friends are in trouble, America helps."

While the scope of the disaster is still being assessed, the duration and extent of the 31st MEU's operations will depend on requests from the government of the Philippines and the priorities of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"The Marine Corps as a whole, and the 31st MEU in particular, has had a long-standing relationship with the people of the Philippines," Merna said. "It's an important mission anytime we do something like this, but when it's a close friend and ally, it makes it that much more serious for us and we'll stay as long as we're asked to."

In October 2012, the 31st MEU trained in various locations in the Philippines with that country’s military during Amphibious Landing Exercise 2012, a bilateral training event designed to enhance interoperability and response during missions such as this.

The 31st MEU and its partner, the U.S. Navy’s Amphibious Squadron 2, have responded to four humanitarian assistance disaster relief situations during the last five years. The Marines and sailors have a robust air, ground, and maritime transportation capability, as well as medical and dental health services, distribution services, and engineering assets ready to provide assistance.

The 31st MEU includes more than 2,200 Marines and sailors and is comprised of four elements: the Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265; and the Marines’ Combat Logistics Battalion-31.

The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations in the Asia-Pacific region. The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU and it remains the Marine Corps' force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific.

Navy Ship Clears the Way for Philippines Relief Operation



By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Heavin
Commander, Task Force 70 Public Affairs

PHILIPPINE SEA, Nov. 17, 2013 – The USNS Bowditch oceanographic survey ship was first on scene off the coast of Tacloban, Republic of the Philippines, ensuring safe sea lanes in order for the George Washington Strike Group to assist the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in support of Operation Damayan.

“Bowditch has been a fantastic member of the strike group because in the wake of a major disaster like this, especially in an area that is known for shifting sands, it’s important that we get a very accurate description of the topographic levels of the ocean so that we can safely place our relief-assistance ships, typically the amphibious ships as they get close to shore,” said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander of the George Washington Strike Group.

“Bowditch was nearly first on scene and has been working the Leyte Gulf aggressively, and she’ll be wrapping up in the next 24 to 36 hours,” Montgomery said. “A very impressive work ethic displayed by Bowditch has contributed significantly to the overall success of the maritime component of this disaster relief mission.”

Bowditch gathered data that provided much of the military's information on the ocean environment, which in turn, stabilized the safety and mission of sailors and other U.S. service members. The ship’s success comes from its multi-beam contour mapping system, and wide-angle side-scan sonar systems, which continuously collect data over a broad strip of ocean floor.

Bowditch also employs two hydrographic survey launches, small boats that use single and multi-beam echo-sounders and streamed side-scan sonar systems to collect data in very shallow regions. The waters close to the shoreline tend to have the most significant changes in the ocean bottom due to shifted debris and bottom features. However, relief efforts depend heavily on proximity to the shore to get supplies to where they need to go.

“Bowditch has already provided charted data of safe, navigable channels and identified new hazards that will prove invaluable in the relief efforts that have and will continue to occur in the region,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mark Murnane, the Washington strike group’s naval oceanographer.

Bowditch is operated by the Military Sealift Command for the Naval Oceanographic Office, a component of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command headquartered at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The ship is one of six Pathfinder-class vessels with an all-civilian crew of professional mariners and scientific support personnel. With a 329-foot length and a 58-foot beam, the Bowditch displaces 4,762 long tons.

USNS Bowditch Clears the Way



By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shannon Heavin, Commander, Task Force 70 Public Affairs

PHILIPPINE SEA (NNS) -- USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) was first on scene off the coast of Tacloban, Republic of the Philippines, ensuring safe sea lanes in order for the George Washington Strike Group (GWSG) to assist the Third Marine Expeditionary Brigade in support of Operation Damayan.

Bowditch serves as an oceanographic sampling and data collection of surface, mid-water and ocean floor parameters. When a significant storm event passes through an area, surveys of this nature are required to confirm bottom features and identify navigational hazards. She has been performing acoustical, biological, physical and geophysical surveys of the effected area since right after the Super Typhoon.

"Bowditch has been a fantastic member of the Strike Group because in the wake of a major disaster like this, especially in an area that is known for shifting sands, it's important that we get a very accurate description of the topographic levels of the ocean so that we can safely place our relief-assistance ships, typically the amphibious ships as they get close to shore," said Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander, GWSG. "Bowditch was nearly first on scene and has been working the Leyte Gulf aggressively, and she'll be wrapping up in the next 24 to 36 hours. A very impressive work ethic displayed by Bowditch has contributed significantly to the overall success of the maritime component of this disaster relief mission."

Bowditch gathered data that provided much of the military's information on the ocean environment, which in turn, stabilized the safety and mission of Sailors and servicemen. The ship's success lies in the multi-beam contour mapping system, and wide-angle side-scan sonar systems, which continuously collect data over a broad strip of ocean floor. Bowditch also employs two Hydrographic Survey Launches, small boats that use single and multi-beam echo-sounders and streamed side-scan sonar systems to collect data in very shallow regions. The waters close to the shoreline tend to have the most significant changes in the ocean bottom due to shifted debris and bottom features. However, relief efforts depend heavily on proximity to the shore to get supplies to where they need to go.

"Bowditch has already provided charted data of safe navigable channels and identified new hazards that will prove invaluable in the relief efforts that have and will continue to occur in the region," said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Murnane, GWSG's naval oceanographer.

Bowditch is operated by the Military Sealift Command for the Naval Oceanographic Office, a component of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command headquartered at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Bowditch is one of six Pathfinder-class ships with an all-civilian crew of professional mariners and scientific support personnel. With a 329 foot length and a 58 foot beam, the ship displaces 4,762 long tons.

GWSG Delivers Relief to a Thankful Village



By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Liam Kennedy

GUIUAN, Eastern Samar, Republic of the Philippines (NNS) -- In the small village of Guiuan, located in Eastern Samar province, villagers lined up outside the gate of
a runway awaiting food, water and medical supplies to be delivered by helicopters from the George Washington Strike Group (GWSG) in support of Operation Damayan.

Guiuan was heavily affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which clocked winds up to 195 miles per hour (mph) with gusts up to 235 mph. Houses that were once big and colorful, are now gray and battered. Uprooted palm trees are now makeshift shelters, and water faucets are now showers. But due to support from the GWSG, 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and other organizations in close coordination with the Philippine govt. and military, the villager's morale and conditions are improving.

"Strong winds and waves hit our town early in the morning," said Haiyam Salisa, a Guiuan resident. "We had nothing within the matter of an hour. We were afraid and couldn't stop crying till the storm was over."

The "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12 and the "Saberhawks" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77, embarked aboard the U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), have airlifted 3,255 gallons of water, 24,900 pounds of food and 2,630 pounds of general supplies, and have conducted 221 personnel transfers.

"The Americans have brought food and water to us," said Sheen Gonzales, mayor of Guiuan. "But more importantly, they have brought us transportation to and from the island. We were isolated for many days and without the American's help, my people would not be eating their regular meals three times a day."

As boxes of supplies were off-loaded from trucks and organized into neat stacks for distribution, weary villagers ate their provided rations or discussed what their next big move may be; where they will live, who they will see and when they will rebuild.

"I was a college student studying to become an English teacher before the storm," said Maria Badango, a Guiuan resident. "I thank God my family and I survived the storm, but my dreams have been crushed for now. I must now move to Manila and find my sister so I can help my relatives."

Further away from the airfield, away from the crowds, chatter and the rumblings of jets are makeshift shelters; the villagers of which have tried to rebuild what they once had and regain a sense of normalcy.

These villagers, who have not wandered to the airbase, live among rubble, glass, and ruined brick and mortar. Villagers were cooking their rations of rice and meat as if nothing had ever happened. These villagers are tough; they treat each other as family and lean on one another during these hard times.

"The Filipino people are resilient, everyone is family and takes care of each other," said Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Rumero Padilla, from Manila, a relief effort volunteer from the "Dambusters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195.

"Our ties with the Americans go back to World War II, when this air field was used by the American military," said Gonzales. "We appreciate all the support and gratitude we have been given by the American people and George Washington."

Though these people have fallen on hard times, they are not down and out. They have taken what has been a devastating event and have started to turn it into a new chapter for their village. The people of Guiuan shall return to rebuild and take back what was once theirs.