In aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, US troops rush to aid of Philippines

They worked marathon hours under grueling conditions, doing everything from making food drops to remote villages to running airfields that were littered with debris and bodies when they arrived.

In the weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, the U.S. military handled much of the initial disaster response to the Philippines’ hard-hit Leyte province, where more than 5,700 people are believed to have died in the Nov. 8 storm.

Thousands of U.S. airmen, Marines, soldiers and sailors took part in the brief but critical Operation Damayan relief effort that lasted just a few weeks. At its peak, 13,400 military personnel, 66 aircraft and 12 naval vessels were taking part in the humanitarian mission.

Airmen in the coastal city of Tacloban described working 24-hour “shifts” at the city’s battered airport, directing inbound flights carrying food, water and tarps into the city and outbound flights packed with tired, hungry and sometimes sick and injured evacuees to Manila and Cebu. In all, the U.S. flew more than 21,000 evacuees, the vast majority of them Filipinos, out of the hardest-hit areas on aircraft including Ospreys, C-130s and C-17s.

A short walk from the airport, Marines lived in a tent city that went up seemingly overnight and came down just as quickly, often wading through ankle-deep mud or wearing clothes that never seemed to dry in the frequent rains.

Still, morale across the region was high, with many servicemembers saying the mission was among the highlights of their military career.

Marine Staff Sgt. Steve Chapman ran a water production site near Tacloban that purified seawater for drinking.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to provide this kind of service to the people, especially when you see the kids walking down the streets with water jugs,” he said.

During the operation, the U.S. conducted more than 1,300 relief flights and delivered more than 2,495 tons of supplies. As road conditions improved, responsibility for relief efforts gradually passed to the Philippine military and international aid organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Okinawa provided the initial U.S. military response to the disaster, which reduced much of Tacloban, Guiuan and other parts of Leyte province to rubble. The USS George Washington aircraft carrier, and later the amphibious ships the USS Ashland and the USS Germantown, were sent to the crisis areas.

The operation was widely praised for the speed and breadth of its response.

“There was applauding of the military,” Sean Callahan, chief operating officer for Catholic Relief Services, said during a December congressional hearing that reviewed the U.S. response to Haiyan. “There was joy from the people we talked to. It was very impressive.”

Brig. Gen. Kurt J. Ryan, deputy commander for transition for Joint Task Force 505, the military’s response to Haiyan, said as Damayan wound to a close that the operation had run as smoothly as any he had seen during his career.

“I’ve served in the Army for 27 years, and I’ve done operations around the world and I don’t think that we could have done it differently or better,” he said.


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