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353rd SOG supports Operations Damayan

A little girl watches as her father puts on hearing protection after boarding an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron Nov. 20. Families in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan were airlifted from Ormoc to Manila as part of Operation Damayan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

A little girl watches as her father puts on hearing protection after boarding an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron Nov. 20. Families in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan were airlifted from Ormoc to Manila as part of Operation Damayan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Members from the 353rd Special Operations Group, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan in support of Operation Damayan, direct air traffic at Guiuan Airport, Republic of the Philippines Nov. 17.  The special tactics Airmen are directing more than 100 sorties a day to ensure airlift of more than 1,000 Philippine citizens daily in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Members from the 353rd Special Operations Group, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan in support of Operation Damayan, direct air traffic at Guiuan Airport, Republic of the Philippines Nov. 17. The special tactics Airmen are directing more than 100 sorties a day to ensure airlift of more than 1,000 Philippine citizens daily in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Staff Sgt. Antonio Garcia, 353rd Special Operations Group, directs Filipino passengers to the aircraft Nov. 17, at Guiuan Airport. Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen are deployed in support of Operation Damayan. Garcia, assigned to the 353rd SOG as a vehicle maintainer, served as a translator during this mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Staff Sgt. Antonio Garcia, 320th Special Tactics Squadron, directs Filipino passengers to the aircraft Nov. 17, at Guiuan Airport. Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen are deployed in support of Operation Damayan. Garcia, assigned to the 353rd SOG as a vehicle maintainer, served as a translator during this mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Master Sgt. Jeremy Rector, a Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element team member assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron, works to coordinate airlift Nov. 17, at Guiuan Airport, Philippines. Rector is deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan in support of Operation Damayan to help transport Philippine citizens and ensure the delivery of food and supplies to those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Master Sgt. Jeremy Rector, a Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element team member assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron, works to coordinate airlift Nov. 17, at Guiuan Airport, Philippines. Rector is deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan in support of Operation Damayan to help transport Philippine citizens and ensure the delivery of food and supplies to those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

From left, Staff Sgt. Aaron Davis and Master Sgt. Tobin Berry, combat controllers with the 353rd Special Operations Group, along with an Armed Forces of the Philippines service member, direct air traffic Nov. 17 at Guiuan Airport.  The special tactics Airmen, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, worked with the Philippine military in support of Operation Damayan to open the airfield in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

From left, Staff Sgt. Aaron Davis and Master Sgt. Tobin Berry, combat controllers with the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, along with an Armed Forces of the Philippines service member, direct air traffic Nov. 17 at Guiuan Airport. The special tactics Airmen, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, worked with the Philippine military in support of Operation Damayan to open the airfield in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Staff Sgt. Mike Jones, assigned to 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS), directs a forklift of supplies off an MC-130 Combat Talon II from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Operation Damayan Nov. 20. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Staff Sgt. Mike Jones, assigned to 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS), directs a forklift of supplies off an MC-130 Combat Talon II from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Operation Damayan Nov. 20. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families in Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan board an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS) as part of Operation Damayan, Nov. 20. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families in Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan board an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS) as part of Operation Damayan, Nov. 20. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families in Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan disembark an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS) after being airlifted from Ormoc as part of Operation Damayan Nov. 20. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families in Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan disembark an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS) after being airlifted from Ormoc as part of Operation Damayan Nov. 20. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families from Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan exit an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS) after being transported as part of Operation Damayan, Nov. 21. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts, with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families from Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan exit an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS) after being transported as part of Operation Damayan, Nov. 21. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts, with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

Families in Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan board an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS), Nov. 20 to be transported to Manila as part of Operation Damayan. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)
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Families in Ormoc affected by Typhoon Haiyan board an MC-130 Combat Talon II from 1st Special Operation Squadron (1 SOS), Nov. 20 to be transported to Manila as part of Operation Damayan. The Philippine government is closely coordinating ongoing relief efforts including search and rescue, supply drops and personnel airlifts with military and civilian organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Last November the 353rd Special Operations Group was preparing for a combined exercise in the Philippines as Typhoon Haiyan began to form in the Pacific. After causing flooding and damage on six central islands and killing more than 6,000 people, Super Typhoon Haiyan became known as one of the deadliest storms to ever hit the Philippines. Rather than being called upon to execute the scheduled exercise, the 353rd SOG quickly changed their mission from training to a humanitarian relief effort.

Nearly 150 SOG personnel deployed to the Philippines November 12-23, 2013 to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan hit central Philippines.

"The Philippines was hit by a terrible disaster like I have never seen before and hope to never see again. The destruction and human toll on the central islands here is hard to put into words and even the television news cannot convey its severity," said Maj. David Lucas, the 353rd SOG detachment commander. "The group was proud to be able to help bring relief to the people of the Philippines."

In order to provide the support needed, the group deployed aircrew and maintainers along with MC-130H Combat Talon II and MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft to provide transport in and out of disaster stricken areas. Special tactics teams deployed to assess, survey and control airfields that initially were not accessible by aircraft. As each airfield was opened, the time it took to reach the people in need of supplies decreased. The group also came with specialized security, medical support teams, and mobile communication specialists to enhance relief operations.

"Our core mission is infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces at night, in inclement weather and in isolated locations, to include all the unique support functions to enable those capabilities," said Lucas. "Ironically, a HADR mission like this is very similar to special operations and requires many of the same skills."

The 353rd SOG's airmen were able to put their training into action as soon as boots hit the ground in the Philippines. According to Lucas, a small 8-man element from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron arrived in Tacloban to find a hazardous air traffic control situation, but within 18 hours they were able to normalize traffic flow and start night flying operations. That allowed the first two MC-130H aircraft from the 1st Special Operations Squadron to move in and out of Tacloban four times that night, bringing in 63,000 pounds of supplies and moving hundreds of displaced persons to Manila.

From the first night until the final day when the group left the Philippines, the 353rd SOG completed 36 missions totaling 152 sorties and 179 flying hours. These missions allowed for more than 650,000 pounds of supplies and over 3,000 displaced persons to be transported. The group's special tactics teams and embedded support personnel were also able to assist Philippine forces in opening Ormoc Airfield, Guiuan Airfield and Borongan Airfield for follow-on efforts, allowing 24-hour operations so supplies and food could quickly reach people affected by the Typhoon.

"In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the 353rd SOG worked alongside our joint partners and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the areas the Philippine government deemed most in need," said Col. Ben Maitre, Commander, 353rd SOG. "Doing so allowed us to both validate and further build upon a history of successfully working with partner nations in the Pacific to respond to people affected by natural disasters."