News: Australians assume Operation Damayan support role in Ormoc
Story by Lance Cpl. Anne Henry
ORMOC, Philippines - Australian forces assumed responsibility for assisting the Government of the Philippines in aiding survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in Ormoc, Leyte, Nov. 23, as they replaced U.S. Joint Special Operations-Philippines (JSOTF-P) forces that supported Joint Task Force 505.
As some U.S. military forces begin to redeploy due to decreasing emergent needs and changing requirements, the U.S. and many other nations and organizations continue to assist in recovery efforts. The retrograde of U.S. military forces follows massive emergency relief efforts which are now transitioning to long-term recovery operations.
“The local government, with continued assistance from their Australian military partners and international aid organizations, is prepared and ready to face the challenges of long-term recovery into the future,” said Ruben R. Capahi, a council member at Ormoc City Hall.
As aid has reached the areas in most need, and those needing evacuation have been flown to safety, the demand for unique U.S. military capabilities is decreasing and can be replaced with host nation or international agency solutions, according to officials.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines Nov. 7 with estimated wind gusts reaching 230 mph, left a path of destruction spanning 36 provinces and impacted an estimated 4.2 million people, according to the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
In Ormoc, the goals of the JSOTF-P ranged from identifying the capabilities of all the international aid groups entering the area to communicating with the local government about relief supply distribution, according to U.S. Army Maj. Herb Daniels, the commander of the joint special operations task force operating out of Ormoc City Airport.
“Our biggest challenge was receiving so many different aid organizations and international groups at once and linking them up with the local government,” Daniels said. “We have a lot of people who want to do good, and with the guidance and direction of the local government, they will do an even greater good because it will be a planned effort.”
The transition process began once the members of the JSOTF-P felt comfortable with their assessments of recovery activities and operations that were occurring in the local area and that the relief efforts had been effective, according to Daniels.
“While working with the local government, the municipal leadership, and Philippine security forces, we were able to identify key individuals and capabilities,” Daniels said. “Once we were able to build that extensive database … we were able to pass that information along, not just to our Australian counterparts, but also the local government and U.N.”
Ormoc City itself sustained substantial damage with up to 90 percent of the structures affected, according to Capahi.
“We were ready for the typhoon in the sense that we prepared as best as we could, and were very aggressive with our pre-emptive evacuation,” Capahi said. “But with a typhoon of this scale, everything in this city was damaged if not destroyed.”
After conducting a thorough turnover, the Australian forces are confident in their ability to provide assistance to the local government as they continue to help the citizens of Ormoc recover from the typhoon, according to Australian Army Capt. Francois Nozaiz, a watch officer with the J3 operations, Joint Task Force 505.
“Once the U.S. military forces depart the area of operations, we will take responsibility of aiding the government … ensuring that all major routes are clear within the area, which will allow aid to reach those municipal areas outside of the city region,” Nozaiz said. “So far this transition has not been a problem at all. The American team that has been on the ground has provided us with a lot of valuable data.”
U.S. military forces assisted with moving approximately 48 tons of relief supplies into Ormoc, more than 1,700 tons of aid overall to affected areas, and evacuating approximately 18,000 people as of Nov. 21.
“The U.S. forces have been a huge help, and the transition has been moving very smoothly,” Capahi said. “It is ultimately the little things that are helping the people the most and are making things better. It’s the handshake, the smile, or the hug and the positive demeanor of the U.S. forces.”