Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group delivers supplies to Philippines.After Typhoon Fengshen carved its way through the central Philippines on 20-22 June, killing more than 1,500 people, sailors from the Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group teamed with their counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to deliver much-needed relief supplies to the victims. The carrier strike group, including embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14, cut short its port visit to Hong Kong on 22 June to avoid the typhoon and then steamed toward the Philippines, arriving in the Sulu Sea off the centra! island of Panay on 25 June.
Between 25 June and 3 July, crews flew multiple missions each day carrying supplies and manpower ashore. Reagan provided a heavy lift capability that was vital to transporting food, potable water, and medical supplies to sites all around Panay. The four ships with Reagan positioned themselves around the island and served as fueling stations for the helos to keep the relief effort moving.
Flying the humanitarian missions were C-2A Greyhounds from VRC-30 as well as HH-60H and SH-60F Seahawks from HS-4, embarked aboard Ronald Reagan; SH-60B Seahawks from HSL-49, embarked aboard Chancellorsville (CG 62) and Thach (FFG 43); an HSL-37 Seahawk embarked aboard Gridley (DDG 101); and an HSL-43 Seahawk embarked aboard Howard (DDG 83).
With potable water in very high demand in the area, USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3) arrived on 29 June off the northern coast of Panay loaded with fresh water. The ship's embarked Puma helicopter detachment, with the assistance of an HH-60H Seahawk from HS-4, delivered 168,000 bottles of water to the city of Kalibo in just four hours.
Inside the helicopters, Navy aircrews paired with AFP officers and civilian government officials to make the deliveries. AFP officers also embarked Reagan to help direct the effort. "We're all connected," said LCdr. Rolo Garces, a pilot from HSL-43 who flew one of the relief missions off Howard. "I have kids, so even in a part of the world I've never seen before, I'm really touched and I'm proud to work with the [AFP] on this mission."
Relief on Panay centered on Santa Barbara airport in Iloilo City, where a Philippine Air Force C-130 cargo plane arrived on 25 June loaded with food and other supplies. It was joined by two C-2A Greyhounds from Ronald Reagan carrying water and rice. During the first two days alone, the carrier strike group delivered 28,128 bottles of water and 9,060 pounds of rice.
CVW-14 aircrews saw firsthand the typhoon's devastation. Hundreds of the residents of Panay Island drowned, and thousands were left without clean water or food. "Seeing the faces of the children when we landed was priceless," said AWC (NAC/AW) Andrew Smith, an HS-4 crew chief who flew relief missions for a week straight. "When we got out to deliver the supplies, they were so happy; they just wanted to touch us. It is something I will always remember."
In addition to the airlifts, engineers ventured out into Iloilo and fixed generators that were submerged in water and mud, restoring electrical power to two local hospitals. CW03 Zosimo Francisco, a Philippines native, led a four-man team of Ronald. Reagan engineers into Iloilo City to repair hospital generators damaged by the floods. After bringing a mud-damaged fuel pump aboard the ship for repair, the team returned to Iloilo City's Barotac Viejo Hospital and restored electrical power. The hospital had been without power for days since flood waters struck. Senior doctors from Reagan's health services department coordinated with AFP personnel and provincial government officials to get the hospitals up and running.
"I'm proud of what we did for the people of Iloilo," Francisco said. "It's very gratifying. We saw firsthand the effects of the typhoon, the devastation. We met people who were suffering greatly, but they still managed to wave and smile."
By the time the Reagan CSG left the Philippines on 3 July, aircrews had flown 332 sorties delivering 519,000 pounds of supplies.
U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Kristie A. Kenney visited Ronald Reagan on June 29 with AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano to thank the sailors involved in the relief effort.
"The Filipino people appreciate what the United States has done during these trying times," said Yano. "It only goes to show the longstanding friendship and camaraderie between our armed forces. We appreciate very much what the United States is doing."
The nine-day mission proved to be a challenge for sailors and aircrew members who constantly prepared pallets of supplies, refueled, and performed maintenance on aircraft and flew missions from sunup to sundown. Despite the long hours and hard work, a sense of accomplishment and gratification was evident in all those involved.
"This was a mission that was tremendously rewarding for our sailors," RAdm. James P. Wisecup, Commander CSG-7, said. "The aircrews flew 20-35 missions per day. Our aircraft maintainers worked through the night. Every sailor in the strike group had a hand in this. More importantly, we worked alongside our counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and brought real help to their people."
Ronald Reagan CO Capt. Kenneth Norton added, "The entire ship is feeling very good about what we did. We were just happy to help."
By Lt. Ron Flanders, Carrier Strike Group 7 Public Affairs