Kadena's C-130s hop, drop in Philippines
May 20, 2003
EDWIN ANDREWS AIR BASE, SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES — A few times a week, Army Sgt. Jerry Mathis races out to meet the C-130 arriving from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, for its quick drop in and out.
Within minutes, people are running on and off the plane, offloading supplies.
Minutes later, the supplies are on the ground, being sorted, sent on or stored.
And the boxy gray aircraft is gone — hopefully before terrorists’ eyes can notice.
Several hundred U.S. servicemembers live in the southern Philippines.
They need sustenance, medicine, ammunition — and goods promoting a morale boost wouldn’t hurt.
All of that crosses Mathis’ path before it’s disbursed among the three bases on which U.S. personnel live.
“Anything and everything that supports U.S. forces comes though this facility,” U.S. base commander Lt. Col. Joseph Smith said.
At the two chow halls supplied by these flights, the celery is crisp and the brownies rich. They, with almost everything else, have come from Japan or America.
But delivery is a bit more complicated than making a run to the neighborhood convenience store.
Before the C-130 lands, armed Marine patrols are secreted around the area.
The plane performs a combat landing, coming in fast, dropping quickly and using drag from landing gear to stop fast.
The method doesn’t make for comfortable landings — just safer ones.
The risk isn’t exaggerated, Smith said.
The runway is shared by the military and Zamboanga’s commercial aircraft.
A month ago, at its western end, a firefight erupted between terrorist rebels and Philippine police, killing one officer.
About 18 months ago, terrorists at a nearby house in the hills fired mortars at the base. Airports in other parts of the province also have been attacked and bombed.
“We want to expose that plane as little as possible,” Smith said.
Unloaded supplies are divvied up and disbursed or stored at a warehouse after they arrive.
Newly arriving troops get off less easily.
“One of the first things,” Smith said: “They’re out and qualifying on the range.”
For force protection, everyone must be familiar with his or her weapon and be capable of using it effectively.
Within their first day there, new arrivals must demonstrate this skill, Smith said.
If anyone questions why, he can point to the Philippine air force helicopters returning from nearby combat missions riddled with bullet holes.
“It’s a reminder of what they have to go through every day,” he said.
The U.S. activities at the air base are confined to a small, heavily guarded area called Camp Cobra.
Sharp razor wire and watchful Marine patrols protect the people and supplies within.
Camp Cobra is within Edwin Andrews air base, a larger, also heavily guarded Philippine air force base.
Camp Cobra is aptly named. When Americans arrived about two years ago, the area designated for them “was swamped with cobra snakes,” Smith said.
For fun on Sundays, and to make the place safe, troops would kill the snakes for a snack, he said.
U.S. personnel are housed in a small metal-box barracks — not ideal, but it is air-conditioned.
They also have access to a spacious and stocked Morale, Recreation and Welfare facility with pool tables, flat screen televisions, computer games and golf clubs for the 9-hole course on the Philippine air base side.
Smith said the U.S. military always is looking for ways to improve the quality of life.
He added refrigerators stocked with water bottles around the base to prevent dehydration in the sweltering, 90-degree heat.
U.S. forces also fixed up buildings and built a few others — infrastructure improvements that eventually will benefit the Philippine air force when the U.S. mission ends and the Americans leave.
Until then, as long as the plane comes in, there will be food on the table — and sometimes, a few surprises.
“We don’t always get what we order,” said project catering manager Ian Matthews, a contractor from England.
But sometimes they do.
For Easter, Matthews said, he gave it a shot and ordered something special.
Lo and behold, he got what he asked for: “Everybody got a lobster tail for their Easter dinner.”