News: Transition in Tacloban, U.S. Marine capabilities no longer necessary
Story by Cpl. Brandon Suhr
TACLOBAN, Philippines - U.S. Marine forces supporting Joint Task Force 505 in Tacloban City began conducting a coordinated transition and retrograde of military operations with the Armed Forces of the Philippines today due to the decreasing demand for unique U.S. military capabilities in further recovery efforts, Nov. 24.
The Government of the Philippines, with U.S. Agency for International Development, various international military and non-governmental supporters, continues leading the effort to aid survivors and continue the recovery from Typhoon Haiyan in that location.
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.
“We are now transitioning towards expanding beyond the airport,” Philippine Navy Capt. Roy V. Trinidad, the task-group airport commander with Joint Headquarters Staff Operations said. “The airport is in good hands, civil aviation authorities are now handling the airport; of course with support from the Philippine Air Force and the U.S. military.”
Immediately after the typhoon struck the entire area was destroyed and there was no semblance of governance because all local government officials were victims of the storm, according to Trinidad. But within a matter of days there were personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines on the ground, government officials were flown in from unaffected areas, and multiple foreign countries including the U.S. were willing to help.
“All the relief that came in, food, water, medicine, fuel, would not have been possible, we could not have pushed them out from the airport without the critical air assets that came in,” Trinidad said. “The decisive point of the whole mission was the arrival of the aircraft to help us push all the supplies out.”
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.
“We were led by our Philippine partners from the eighth division and we got critical augmentation from the Armed Forces of the Philippine - they have been leading this thing since day one - but all the augmentation that has now been provided is now being shouldered by the Philippine Armed Forces,” Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, currently in support of Joint Task Force 505 said. “It makes me feel good as an ally of this government that we could respond. We were under the direction of the Philippine Armed Forces the entire time, it was tailored and it was immediate and responsive. We feel pretty good about having participated in this operation.”
The eighth division has designed a plan to continue improving the ground transportation corridors by having Philippine Armed Forces travel along the roads and make sure the roads are open, according to Kennedy.
“We have pulled more than 135 different types of trucks that are being used to push forward on a regular schedule in coordination with our Department of Social Welfare and Development. We are pushing the relief to a lot of (affected) communities and now a lot of the hospital facilities are increasingly functional in coordination with the Department of Health,” Philippine Army Col. Emmanuel Cacdac, the Yolanda deputy task force commander said. “We plan to build up needed relief supplies here that our military trucks and assets will be pushing out to the stricken municipalities. We have done this on a regular basis for the last couple weeks.”
The U.S. assets were critical in the operation of several distribution hubs, including Tacloban City, Guiuan and Ormoc City, according to Cacdac.
The substantial improvement in existing and developing supply and distribution chains across the most severely affected areas hit by Typhoon Yolanda have set conditions for a coordinated, responsible, and measured retrograde of U.S. military forces from the Philippines, according to Kennedy. In addition to Tacloban City, Kennedy also traveled to Ormoc City and Cebu to witness transition activites.
“You (U.S. forces) were there bridging the gap, helping those people pick up their lives, escorting them aboard the planes,” Trinidad said. “Compassion for them was there, and we all worked long hours, but it was very fulfilling.”
U.S. military forces have evacuated more than 17,000 people from the affected areas, and delivered more than 2,000 tons of relief supplies.
“It is very heartwarming that one of our closest allies, the U.S. military was the first to join us and help us; truly their presence put a lot of stability in the initial stages of the operation,” Cacdac said.