CAMP FOSTER, Japan - As the propellers of two KC-130J Hercules aircraft started up, Philippine service members and U.S. Marines exchanged words of thanks and goodbyes Dec. 17 at Villamor Air Base, Manila, Republic of the Philippines.
Marines with various III Marine Expeditionary Force units supported Philippine-led disaster relief operations Dec. 9-16, working side by side with Armed Forces of the Philippines service members to provide assistance at the request of the Philippine Government following Typhoon Bopha, which made landfall in the Philippines Dec. 4.
“At that time, we were in the middle of finishing up our Exercise Balikatan final planning conference and we watched the typhoon come in,” said Col. Mark J. Menotti, the assistant chief of staff, G-4, supply and logistics, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III MEF, who served as the officer in charge of the III MEF Forward Command Element in the Philippines.
Menotti and other members of the 3rd MEB staff established the III MEF FCE and bilateral coordination center, which coordinated efforts with the Philippine government and AFP, U.S. Embassy in Manila and U.S. Agency for International Development Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and provided command and control for U.S. Marine Corps support to Philippine-led relief operations.
“We immediately started working with our AFP counterparts to see what assistance they might need and through that, we were able to at least put the MEF in Okinawa on standby so they could begin to formulate their plan,” said Menotti. “Within seven hours of being directed by U.S. Pacific Command to provide support, we had two KC-130J Hercules aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 on the ground in Manila, and they began transporting relief supplies the next day.”
VMGR-152's aircraft and personnel transported relief supplies daily from Villamor Air Base in Manila to Davao International Airport in Mindanao, one the most heavily-affected areas in the southern Philippines. Upon landing at Davao, Philippine service members worked hard alongside U.S. Marines, U.S. military personnel assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines and USAID representatives to unload supplies as quickly as possible onto awaiting trucks. The supplies were then distributed by Philippine government and nongovernmental organizations to displaced families affected by the typhoon.
Along with deploying the aircraft, III MEF also sent a team of logistics Marines to streamline relief operations by working with Philippine service members to efficiently palletize and load relief supplies onto the KC-130Js at Villamor Air Base.
“Our team consisted of four landing support specialists and two embarkation specialists,” said Cpl. David J. Mugg, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III MEF. “With our logistics background and experience from a recent deployment to Afghanistan, we understand the importance of getting supplies out where they need to go as quickly as possible, which is critical during a humanitarian mission.”
As even the best laid plans are not perfect, the operation was not without its challenges, according to Cpl. Daniel C. Tozer, a fixed-wing aircraft crew chief with VMGR-152, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MEF.
“We had trucks constantly arriving and little time between flights, so we had to build the pallets as fast as we could to be able to stick to our flight schedule,” said Tozer. “We didn’t have a forklift where the supplies were being flown, so we had to off-load all the supplies by hand with our counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. We also were battling the weather and trying to keep the food and clothing dry in the rain, but despite all the challenges, we were still able to adapt and overcome to complete our mission together.”
The ability to expediently respond to a crisis and deliver results showcased III MEF’s key role in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Menotti.
"This relief effort highlighted the range of military operations that III MEF can conduct in a short amount of time with the flexibility of our operational task force,” said Menotti. “In eight days, we were able to move 750,000 pounds of relief supplies and conduct 22 sorties. (We) made a big punch in a short amount of time that really helped those affected out.”
Working shoulder-to-shoulder with Philippine service members is always an enjoyable experience, though unfortunate in this instance because of the tragic events which took place, according to Tozer.
“There were some people who lost everything in this typhoon, so for me, it was a huge reward to have the chance to be a part of a team that ensured tents, clothing, food and water was delivered to them during their time of need,” said Tozer. “We are constantly training to respond to crises. What I enjoy most out of my job is being able to actually help those in need, and I am happy to have been a part of this operation.”