Feature Search

Airmen in Damayan: Helping from 50-feet above

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Marianique Santos
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series featuring the personal experiences of 36th Contingency Response Group Airmen who supported Operation Damayan -- a U.S. humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort to support the Philippines in the wake of the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan.

More than 80 Airmen from the 36th Contingency Response Group made their way to the Philippines in support of Operation Damayan, a multi-national effort to bring relief and aid to the island nation devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, and after assisting Philippine forces in clearing and managing Tacloban airfield and unloading water and relief goods intended for survivors, the Airmen returned here with an experience they will remember forever.

Master Sgt. Clinton Dykes, 36th CRG air traffic control NCO in charge, viewed the devastation through the shattered windows of the 50-foot control tower where he saw the devastating effects of the category 5-equivalent super typhoon.

"I had a view of the ocean-surrounded airport, and I was in disbelief that a storm could produce such havoc, as I had never seen this type of damage in person," Dykes recalled. "It was at that moment I experienced sadness and a heart-wrenching feeling knowing there were thousands of displaced families and many lives lost, yet thankful we were there to help the Philippine military make a huge difference for this devastated area."

As the sole representative of the Air Force on the control tower, he worked with three U.S. Marine Corps air traffic controllers around the clock to control military aircraft traffic, splitting shifts in order to get enough rest for demanding work conditions. He also worked alongside Manila International air traffic controllers who volunteered to control civilian aircraft traffic.

"It was a tremendous experience, and we all learned from one another," Dykes said. "We actually utilized one another's techniques to control the chaos within the airspace and ramp.

"Before our arrival, there was a ground time of over 60 minutes which truly hindered aid operations," he continued. "However, once we implemented control priority procedures for arrivals, departures, and ground traffic, ground time decreased to 30-40 minutes."

The air traffic controllers' contributions increased operations and ensured timely arrival for the incoming aid and relief goods. The air traffic control team supported helicopters, small civilian airframes, aircraft carrying distinguished visitors, commercial and cargo aircraft, as well as assets from the United States, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Italy and Sweden.

According to Dykes, the biggest challenge was adapting to the environment and moving from an exercise to a real-world mindset.

"This is what the CRG trains for, and we executed our duties extremely well," he said. "Knowing that we contributed millions of pounds of aid and seeing the people of Tacloban smiling and thanking us provided me with great satisfaction. Once we had to leave, I knew we were leaving it much better than we found it."

Because of the long-standing partnership and friendship between the two nations, the U.S., working with the Philippine government, was able to rapidly respond with critically needed capabilities and supplies in times of crisis. The U.S. military teamed with the Philippine government to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the areas the Philippine government deemed most in need.

"This is the CRG's main mission focus, and we were absolutely ready to deal with this disaster," Dykes said. "Our training had a great deal to do with the success of this humanitarian aid and disaster relief mission and our efforts contributed to the end state desired by the Philippine government.

"This is absolutely the highlight of my career," he continued. "If it were not for me being in the CRG, this opportunity would never have been possible."

Social Media