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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Dispatching 600 Marines from Okinawa to the Philippines on a moment’s notice for disaster relief is part of what the III Marine Expeditionary Force is all about, Marines officials say.

On Friday, soon after the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines promised the Philippines government money, emergency relief supplies and other help for northeastern Luzon’s storm-ravaged coastal cities, an advance team of 16 Marines was dispatched to assess the situation.

And on Tuesday, a 40-Marine detachment from Okinawa arrived in the Philippines at the former U.S. Clark Air Base on two C-130 Hercules transport planes loaded with tons of food and clothing for storm victims. They are part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, some 600 Marines and sailors being deployed along with portable generators, medical supplies, potable water, blankets and plastic sheeting for temporary shelters.

During the weekend, two Navy Seahawk helicopters from the USNS Stockham, a Military Sealift Command ship already positioned in the area, began ferrying food and medical supplies to the devastated towns. They’re to be joined by the Marine helicopters from Okinawa.

Also bound for the Philippines is the USS Fort McHenry. A Marine spokesman said two CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters, from Futenma-based HMH-463 and at MCAS Iwakuni under the unit deployment program, flew out to the Fort McHenry on Wednesday carrying 15 Marines. The Fort McHenry, a dock landing ship with a crew of 350, now is en route to the Philippines, he said.

The Philippines government reported almost 1,500 people are dead or missing and almost 200,000 people have been displaced by two savage tropical storms and a typhoon that raked the coast last week. Floods and landslides destroyed some 28,000 homes, caused more than $58 million in damage and nearly wiped out several villages, the government reported.

A lack of clean drinking water in the area was blamed for causing severe diarrhea and dysentery that killed 10 children, according to reports.

Several 3rd MEB Marines reported being eager to help.

“I’m excited to go,” said Cpl. Tabe Skalla, a ground support equipment technician with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262. He was in the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station terminal Wednesday with 40 other Marines awaiting the next C-130 flight to leave for Clark.

“This is a good opportunity to show the noncombative side of the Marine Corps,” he said. “There’s more to the Marine Corps than just fighting. We train all the time for stuff like this.”

Skalla, who will turn 26 on Dec. 30, said he didn’t mind the possibility of being deployed for the holidays: “It’s easier for the single guys because we’re already away from our families.”

Lance Cpl. Joseph Hagel said possibly being away for the holidays was “tough. But other people deserve to enjoy the holidays, too. So we’re going there to help out.”

“It’s not every day you get to feed starving people or help people who are hurt and don’t have homes.”

The 3rd MEB troops will conduct limited transportation and engineering operations, including delivering relief supplies, stated a news release from the Marine Consolidated Public Affairs Office.

Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman, III MEF commanding general, said, “The forward presence of III Marine Expeditionary Force significantly contributes to the United States’ ability to respond to requests for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This opportunity to assist our friends in the Philippines in alleviating human suffering is just one more way III MEF contributes to overall stability in the Pacific region.

“This deployment truly shows the flexibility and capability of III MEF,” he said, “by simultaneously providing disaster relief to the Philippine people while continuing to support the Global War on Terrorism and contributing to regional stability and the mutual defense of Japan.”

Fred Zimmerman contributed to this report.

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