George Washington Strike Group Members Assist Filipinos
By Navy Seaman Liam Kennedy
USS George Washington
GUIUAN, Eastern Samar, Republic of the Philippines, Nov. 16, 2013 In the small village of Guiuan, located in Eastern Samar province, villagers lined up outside the gate of a runway awaiting food, water and medical supplies to be delivered by helicopters from the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
Civilians exit an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter, flown by a crew from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 after being airlifted from Guiuan, the Philippines, Nov. 15, 2013. The squadron is attached to Carrier Air Wing 5 with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines, providing support to Operation Damayan. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Liam Kennedy
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Guiuan was heavily affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which clocked winds up to 195 mph with gusts up to 235 mph. Houses that were once big and colorful are now gray and battered. Uprooted palm trees are now makeshift shelters, and water faucets are now showers. But due to support from the George Washington Strike Group and 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade as part of Operation Damayan, the villagers' morale and conditions are improving.
“Strong winds and waves hit our town early in the morning,” said Haiyam Salisa, a Guiuan resident. “We had nothing within the matter of an hour. We were afraid and couldn’t stop crying till the storm was over.”
The "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 and the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 have been the primary support to the village. The squadrons have dropped off 3,255 gallons of water, 24,900 pounds of food and 2,630 pounds of general supplies, and have conducted 221 personnel transfers.
“The Americans have brought food and water to us,” said Sheen Gonzales, mayor of Guiuan. “But more importantly, they have brought us transportation to and from the island. We were isolated for many days and without the American’s help my people would not be eating their regular meals three times a day.”
As boxes of supplies were off-loaded from trucks and organized into neat stacks for distribution, weary villagers ate their provided rations or discussed what their next big move may be: where they will live, who they will see and when they will rebuild.
“I was a college student studying to become an English teacher before the storm,” said Maria Badango, a Guiuan resident. “I thank God my family and I survived the storm, but my dreams have been crushed for now. I must now move to Manila and find my sister so I can help my relatives.”
Further away from the airfield, away from the crowds, chatter and the rumblings of jets are makeshift shelters. The villagers there have tried to rebuild what they once had and regain a sense of normalcy.
These villagers who have not wandered to the airbase, live among rubble, glass, and ruined brick and mortar. Villagers were cooking their rations of rice and meat as if nothing had ever happened. These villagers are tough; they treat each other as family and lean on one another during these hard times.
“The Filipino people are resilient, everyone is family and takes care of each other,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Rumero Padilla, from Manila, a relief effort volunteer from the “Dambusters” of Strike Fighter Squadron 195.
“Our ties with the Americans go back to World War II, when this air field was used by the American military,” Gonzales said. “We appreciate all the support and gratitude we have been given by the American people and the George Washington.”
Though these people have fallen on hard times, they are not down and out. They have taken what has been a devastating event and have started to turn it into a new chapter for their village.