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Photo Gallery: Embedded with U.S. Marines in the Philippines

Nov. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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Displaced Filipinos arrive at Villamor Air Base on Nov. 18. (Mike Morones / Staff)

Editor’s Note: Staff Photographer Mike Morones is with the Marines conducting humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. About 400 Marines are there now for Operation Damayan, which is Tagalog for “help in the time of need.” They are with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, all out of Okinawa.

En route are about 1,000 Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, including 100 members of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, who will fly to the Philippines aboard eight more MV-22B Ospreys. The rest of the MEU is embarked with two Navy dock landing ships.

Morones spent most of Monday with a KC-130 assigned to VMGR-152. He filed this report and these photos.

The KC-130, piloted by a crew from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, pulled to a stop on the runway at Guiuan well after sunset.

After being held up in Manila and then delayed further by too much ground traffic at Guiuan, the Sumos of VMGR-152 circled over the area where Typhoon Haiyan made landfall. They waited for their chance to land, deposit needed fuel and pick up evacuees.

Once on the ground, Cpl. Abram Poppe, an air traffic controller with Marine Air Control Squadron 4 emerged from the darkness.

“It’s been a long couple of days,” he said, taking a drink from a bottle of water offered by air crew member Cpl. Kristyn Hyland. Poppe estimated they have been moving out 500 displaced residents daily for the past few days.

“There’s nothing here,” Poppe said of the devastation. “People are living in makeshift huts or tents.” After a ground crew offloaded fuel and loaded on a pallet of cargo, 90 people, including 80 evacuees and 10 aid workers, made their way to the plane. Marines lent a hand to elderly evacuees and helped carry plastic bags of belongings onboard.

“The long days and long hours are common, whether its combat or humanitarian aid, but you’re out there to accomplish the mission — it’s not an exercise,” said VMGR-152 Squadron Sgt. Maj. David Maddux. “They’re going in there, dropping off gear, dropping off food, and taking as many people as they can on every flight back. The more people we get out of there, the less we have to feed,” said Maddux.

Once everybody was aboard, the plane turned around on the tarmac and took off on the hour-long flight to Villamor Air Base in Manila, where the displaced Filipinos would be directed to social services and medical assistance if necessary. As they put their feet on solid ground again, several in the crowd smiled and waved at the Marines, thanking them for their help.

“When you look at a mom and a baby face-to-face and you’re getting them on a plane to safety and seeing how grateful they are, that’s all you need to see. The long days and the hard work and everything that’s going on — the waiting on fuel, the pain, the agony — it goes away,” said Maddux as he walked off the flight line after landing back at Clark Air Force Base, northwest of Manila.

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