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Airmen in Damayan: CRG Airmen adapt, overcome in Tacloban

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Marianique Santos
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the second 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.

The 36th Contingency Response Group sent more than 80 Airmen to the Philippines in mid-November to provide a joint task force assigned to respond to Typoon Haiyan with multidisciplinary, cross-functional Air Force experts representing 30 specialties.

The Airmen overcame obstacles operating from the city of Tacloban, located over 350 miles from Manila, and performed duties outside of their field of expertise in order to provide assistance needed by both their peers and the survivors through re-establishing the airfield in the typhoon-stricken city, aiding the successful evacuation of more than 6,000 passengers and downloading more than 1.5 million pounds of cargo and relief supplies.

"We came in expecting that we were doing a security role, but the Philippine National Police, Philippine Military and U.S. Marine (Corps) provided security for the airfield," Tech. Sgt. Joseph McDowell, 736th Security Forces Squadron Contingency Response Flight chief. "When we found out the area was secure, we helped the (aerial) porters load cargo and assisted evacuees onto the aircraft in an orderly fashion and made sure nobody got hurt in the process."

McDowell's team also helped escort a convoy to a nearby city to move water purifiers and assisted a nongovernment organization that established a medical facility build tents to aid injured people.

Part of being a member of the contingency response community means knowing how to help the team in many ways beyond their assigned Air Force job, McDowell said.

"I have a cop background, but being part of the 36th CRG helps our members know how to do other people's jobs," McDowell said. "We may not be experts in all of the skills, but we know enough to help each other out."

As members stepped out of their comfort zone to maximize the performance of their team, Airmen from the contingency engineering section demonstrated their flexibility in helping repair a typhoon-damaged, high-traffic runway.

"The biggest problem with the evaluation for the runway was finding a time to get on it and drill through the pavement and test the soil," said Capt. Clark Morgan, 36th Mobility Response Squadron Contingency Engineering Flight commander. "It would take us about 30 minutes per hole to set up, drill, and find the soil strength. There were commercial aircraft, C-130 Hercules', Antonov An-12 and other smaller aircraft coming in at random intervals. Twice we were kicked off in the middle of drilling to allow for a landing. We caught longer breaks between 12-3 a.m., which allowed us to get to the runway and apron."

Morgan also attributes his team's flexibility to being part of the 36th CRG. His flight recently accomplished the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's Contingency Response Mission Orientation Course and participated in exercises and training required of contingency response members assigned to the CR wings and groups around the world. Other 36th CRG members helped the team's readiness and adaptability in situations they were faced with in Tacloban, Philippines.

"Tech. Sgt. Mark Peterson and I have only been with the CRG since August of this year, but we were both trained and ready," Morgan said. "We did an exercise with the 736th SFS and U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 at Orote Point, Guam, in October that prepared us for a helicopter insertion and an airfield survey. (The October training) was my first chance to practice the skills in the Pavement Evaluation Course. Peterson had just returned from the course on Nov. 4, so it was good that most of the information was fresh for both of us."

Through exercise and real-world experiences, Airmen of the 36th CRG maintain a constant level of readiness to deploy and ability to perform duties within or outside their career fields -- whether it be loading aircraft, building pallets, putting up tents, building and manning defensive fighting positions, or having the ability to reassess and adapt to the situation at hand.

"We are such as small unit," McDowell said. "We have to be the first one on scene, so we need to be able to help each other out and make sure everything is ready for incoming units."

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