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Airmen Providing Relief in Philippines

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2006 – Airmen from Yokota Air Base, Japan, and Andersen Air Base, Guam, in the Philippines as part of an annual bilateral exercise, are providing real-world humanitarian assistance after mudslides engulfed a village and 1,800 people, Feb. 17.

U.S. Pacific Command authorized approximately 5,500 U.S. troops to assist in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance shortly after a mountain overlooking a village in southern Leyte Island disintegrated into mud following two weeks of steady rain. The troops were already in the region as part of a bilateral exercise called Balikatan.

Yokota's 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, which flies C-130 aircraft, has already transported more than 40 people and several tons of equipment, including a forklift, to be used in the relief efforts.

"First of all, our thoughts are with the families who lost members in the mudslide," said Lt. Col. Bill Summers, 36th EALS commander. "We are ready to assist along with our sister services in supporting the relief efforts of Philippine government."

According to reports, the village is so remote it takes five to six hours to get there from the nearest airport in Leyte's provincial capitol, Tacloban, nearly 400 miles south of Manila.

"Yokota is the airlift hub of the Pacific and we stand ready and able to get whatever is needed to assist in the effort," Summers said. "The 36th trains for all sorts of contingencies and I'm confident we'll be able to get the much needed supplies and equipment to the affected areas as quickly as possible."

In addition to the 36th EALS, the 36th Contingency Response Group from Andersen is providing assistance. The group, which consists of the 736th Security Forces Squadron and 36th Mission Readiness Squadron, deployed to Clark Air Base in early February to open the air base in preparations for the upcoming exercise.

The group's mission is to be on 12-hour alert and ready to open an airfield or engage in any other mission as Pacific Air Forces sees fit. In 2005, group members assisted with tsunami relief efforts in Southeast Asia, deployed to the Kamchatka Peninsula to aid in the rescue of the trapped Russian submariners and traveled to Mongolia in support of the president's tour.

Additional airmen throughout the Pacific theater are gearing up to provide support, as needed. The 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, which just received its first C-17 Feb. 8, is on alert to deploy its new aircraft and supplies to the region. The Hickam C-17 is the first such aircraft to be permanently based outside the U.S. mainland and is flown and maintained jointly by active-duty airmen and the Hawaii Air National Guard.

The Kenney Warfighting Headquarters, also based at Hickam, is coordinating PACAF's support to the operation.

So far, 56 bodies have been found and 906 people are officially listed as missing following the mudslide, but the Philippine National Red Cross fears the numbers of dead will increase drastically, according to reports.

(Compiled from a Headquarters, U.S. Air Force news release.)

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