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Embedded in the Philippines: Report from a helo aid mission

Nov. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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A message is seen from an MH-60 from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12, flying from the aircraft carrier George Washington and about to land to pick up more relief supplies for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, on Wednesday. (Mike Morones/Staff)

Editor’s note: Military Times photojournalist Mike Morones is with sailors and Marines conducting humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. His exclusive images from Marine units went online Monday and Tuesday. Today, he reports from a Navy helicopter’s aid mission launched from the aircraft carrier George Washington.

Filipinos began to appear, pointing and waving, as the MH-60 Seahawk circled over a village looking for a safe place to land. Loaded out with relief supplies, the chopper with the Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12, based aboard George Washington, was headed to hard-hit areas.

Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Guingona, from 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, was the first out of the helicopter to greet the villagers as they ran toward it.

An aid worker sitting next to a pile of sacks of relief supplies said she thought this was the first time they’ve gotten any sort of relief since the storm. Guingona, the aid worker and a member of the Philippine army moved into the crowd looking for a mayor to try to keep order as the supplies were offloaded.

Meanwhile the crowd edged closer and closer, some begging for something to eat. Guingona returned and, with the help of the local authorities, moved the crowd back so the helicopter could take off and local officials could organize a working party to offload the supplies.

Upon the helo’s return a few minutes later, a group of villagers approached to unload with the help of the crew chief, Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Martin Long and Guingona. After the aid packages were in the hands of the smiling and waving villagers, the crew jumped back in the helicopter and took off to repeat the process at another remote town. Over the course of about four hours, the aircrew transported supplies from Tacloban and Guiuan to areas still too remote or cut off to bring in supplies via truck.

Getting to remote areas

Helicopters are proving key in getting to many of the most remote areas to hand out food and medical and other vital supplies running in short supply.

For four days, the destroyer Mustin has loaded out MH-60R Seahawks with supplies from aid organizations for delivery to remote villages like Mahayag, a whose first supplies came from the helicopter drops, the Mustin said in a news release Wednesday.

“Throughout this entire operation with the Philippine government we have made it our focus to get supplies and aid to the citizens that need it the most,” Cmdr. Joseph Ring, the Mustin’s commanding officer, said in the news release. Ring thanked the Philippine government for coordinating where the supplies were most needed, so officials could dispatch loaded helicopters from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51, the “Warlords,” turned relief workers.

This was a one-in-a-lifetime chance to help, the kind of experience that many sailors enlisted to do. But for some it was even more.

“As a Filipino-American sailor it makes me very proud to be able to come here to my country and impact these peoples’ lives so positively,” said Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician Eustaquia Mauhay, an engineer aboard Mustin. “It is such an honor to be here saving peoples’ lives and providing relief to the people that have had to go through this terrible tragedy. I’m very happy and excited that Mustin was given this task because I know that this ship and this crew has made a difference.”

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