353rd SOG supports Operations Damayan
By Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer, 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
/ Published January 27, 2014
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."