US-Philippines military ties bolster typhoon relief work (+video)
As US personnel continue to flow into The Philippines, they are finding familiar faces and practices courtesy of a longstanding military relationship between the two countries.
The moon is rising over the devastatedÂ coastline of Tacloban as the US military cargo plane circles theÂ runway.
Marines take catnaps on top of 7-ft.-tall pallets of rice and otherÂ supplies, their feet dangling above the heads of aid workers who packÂ the jump seats, hitching rides to the hardest-hit areas.Â Below, bonfires dot the landscape in areas where the water has begunÂ to recede after a 20 ft.-high storm surge.
As US military personnel continue to flow into the country, the large and growing US footprint is in full evidence. But American commanders on the ground here emphasize,Â repeatedly and robustly, that they take their cues from the PhilippineÂ military and national police.Â Indeed, military cooperation between the US and The Philippines has been fostered over years of joint US-Philippine military exercises â and those ties are being borne out now, US military officials say, as the US pulls its Pacific assets into the country to assist with relief efforts.Â
âThey fly American-made helicopters and train with us constantly,âÂ says Col. John Peck, chief of taff for the 3rd Marine ExpeditionaryÂ Brigade. âThey are extremely capable.â
'I know that guy'
Beside the runway, dozens of Tacloban residents wait in neat lines forÂ evacuation from what the Weather Channelâs hurricane experts haveÂ dubbed âthe top end of any tropical system that weâve seen on ourÂ planet.â
There is the earliest beginning of some sign of life on the roads,Â where cars can now begin to try to make their way through through theÂ coastal city as bulldozers work round the clock to clear the rubble, aÂ top priority.
A team of US Navy amphibious ships is scheduled to arrive into theÂ regionÂ Tuesday, bringing with them heavy engineering equipment,Â including more bulldozers, as well as backhoes, dump trucks, andÂ wreckers, at the request of the Philippine government.
These vehicles will clear roads in order to allow the PhilippineÂ military to start moving in food, shelter, water, and gas âon theirÂ own,â says Rear Admiral Denny Wetherald, who commands the US NavyâsÂ 7th Fleet. âWe can move stuff, but itâs important to get theÂ indigenous transport going.â
Exercises with the Philippine military over the course of his careerÂ has helped build these relationships between the militaries. âI wasÂ just here a month ago,â saysÂ Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade commander.
And so when his brigade arrived in the wake of the typhoon, theyÂ recognized their counterparts immediately. âYou look around and itâs,Â âHey, I know that guy,â â General Kennedy says.
âIâve been here for 30 years in and out,â Kennedy adds. His executiveÂ officer has spent time stationed in The Philippines, working out ofÂ the embassy. With his relationships now, he can work his considerableÂ connections to move aid more quickly, Kennedy adds.
A former Philippine Navy SEAL, Capt. Roy Trinidad, directs the aidÂ effort at the Tacloban airport, where the buildingâs typhoon-pummeledÂ roof now resembles a grade-schoolerâs hastily abandoned popsicle-stickÂ project.
Kennedy âhijackedâ one of his unitâs all-terrain vehicle for Captain Trinidad, who hadÂ a lot of ground to cover but âwas spending all this time walkingÂ â itÂ was inefficient.â
If a US military presence on the ground is rarely hailed as a plusÂ in other parts of the world, here the population expresses gratitudeÂ on a frequent basis to US service members they see in hotel lobbiesÂ and coffees shops around Manila.
As the flight from Tacloban lands, one evacuee sitting cross-legged inÂ the belly of the C-130 shouts âthank you!â over the roar of theÂ taxiing engine.
He is quickly joined in a chorus of âthank youâsâ as evacuees,Â carrying their worldly possessions in tattered school backpacks andÂ plastic bags, file off the ramped rear of the plane.