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Amphibs may sub for GW, LCS to join Philippines aid effort, more

Nov. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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Sailors assigned to the destroyer Mustin strike a familiar pose as they clear a damaged tree off a building in Ormoc City, Philippines, on Saturday during relief efforts in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. (Navy)

On the scene

Military Times photojournalist Mike Morones is in the Philippines, sending exclusive images from ongoing relief efforts. Click here for Monday’s photo gallery.

Ten ships, two dozen helicopters and thousands of sailors are supporting relief efforts in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the island nation Nov. 8.

But the largest of those ships may not be there much longer.

The aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived Thursday in the Philippine Sea, is expected to remain in the region — it’s in Eastern Samar now — for “another four days or so,” according to a 7th Fleet news release, which went out late Sunday, Eastern time. The amphibious dock landing ships Ashland and Germantown are expected to arrive in East Samar late Tuesday or early Wednesday after onloading Marines and supplies in Okinawa, Japan.

Those ships — which can produce 74,000 gallons of fresh water a day and will bring dump trucks, backhoes and other heavy equipment, along with medical support — are “possibly assuming the lead in relief duties” when GW departs, the release said.

The ship also notched a first on Sunday when two MV-22s from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 became the first Ospreys to land on the carrier. Both tilt-rotor aircraft stopped in for fuel so they could continue their missions, delivering supplies and transporting personnel.

Three more quick items from the relief efforts:

1. By the numbers

There are 10 U.S. ships assisting in aid efforts, not including the amphibs — GW, the cruisers Antietam and Cowpens; destroyers Lassen and Mustin; submarine tender Emory S. Land; surveying ship Bowditch; cargo ships Richard E. Byrd and Charles Drew; and oiler Yukon. Two dozen helicopters were performing aid missions as of Monday, local time — the “No. 1 priority” of relief efforts, 7th Fleet said in its release.

Nearly 100,000 gallons of fresh water had been delivered, along with 77,000 pounds of food and 6,000 pounds of dry goods. Officials planned to deliver another 45,000 pounds of food/dry goods on Monday.

Other statistics shed light on why such a massive relief effort is required: Tacloban, the island of Leyte’s main city with more than 220,000 residents, is in ruins. Of the 3,976 deaths nationwide attributed to the disaster, 3,275 are from Easter Visayas, a region covering Leyte and Samar. About 17,800 injuries have been reported in that region — the bulk of the 18,175 reported nationwide. More than 1,600 people are still listed as missing.

2. JTF 505 stands up

While relief efforts have been underway for days, there wasn’t a joint task force to oversee them until Monday, when JTF 505 officially stood up to lead all aid efforts under the Operation Damayan umbrella.

Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, head of III Marine Expeditionary Force, was designated as the unit’s commander Wednesday, according to a Navy news release. The unit will be headquartered at Camp Aguinaldo, near Manila, and includes 850 troops on the ground in addition to about 6,200 in the George Washington Carrier Strike Group. Another 1,000 sailors and Marines with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit will arrive on Germantown and Ashland.

3. LCS en route

Having solved a steering issue that kept it in Singapore longer than expected, the littoral combat ship Freedom arrived in Brunei on Monday for a brief stop before assisting with the relief mission.

Freedom’s role in a bilateral exercise with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, going on through Tuesday, was reduced to a “brief passing exercise” with a Brunei patrol craft while the LCS makes its way to the Philippines, according to a Navy news release.

Freedom is carrying 10 pallets of supplies, as well as its most critical asset — an MH-60R helicopter.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to join our ships and those from other navies that are already in the Philippines providing relief,” Chief Hospital Corpsman Blair Taylor said in the release. “We are prepared to help out in any way possible.”

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