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Navy carrier assists Ospreys' critical role in Philippines relief effort

Nov. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Operation Damayan MWM 20131120
An MV-22 lands on the deck of the aircraft carrier George Washington for refueling on Nov. 20. Marine air crews say the carrier is a much faster alternative to stopping at one of the major airports in the Philippines. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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A crewman refuels an MV-22 on Nov. 20. (Mike Morones / Staff)

CLARK AIR BASE, PHILIPPINES — The Osprey has played a critical role in Operation Damayan, the relief effort that began almost immediately after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 7.

Operating out of Clark Air Field, about 450 miles from Tacloban, the MV-22Bs of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadrons 262 and 265 have been operating 12-hour shifts to ferry relief supplies from distribution points to outlying areas in need.

With refueling points at Guiuan on the east coast, Villamor Air Base in Manila as well as the aircraft carrier George Washington, the MV-22 can cover the entirearea of operations.

“It’s outstanding for a mission like this. As far as medical stuff, the urgency of time, the Osprey does really well. It can transport people from an austere location without a runway to a trauma center or hospital very quickly,” said Capt. Travis Keeney of Waxaw, N.C., a pilot with VMM-265. The MV-22 provides “the ability to execute a bunch of different missions at once; cargo delivery, transportation of people and medical evacuation.”

One of the more unusual aspects of the mission is landing aboard the carrier. While landing aboard a ship is nothing new, a carrier is unusual in that the ship is configured for strike missions. Normally the Osprey could also refuel in midair, but the KC-130s of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 have been tasked with hauling cargo and people to and from the affected areas.

Both the Navy and the Marine Corps have been happy with how the operation has played out.

“I think [the Navy] has been pleasantly surprised,” said Maj. Brian Psolka, operations officer for VMM-265. “They’ve been very accommodating with us, and it’s so much quicker than if we try to refuel [on land] because of the dense amount of traffic in the area.” Some aircraft have waited hours at Villamor Air Base in Manila for a fuel truck to arrive.

“This took 10 minutes off the carrier — that buys us time and, ultimately, that time is more supplies that we can distribute, more runs of stuff, more people we can move,” Psolka said. “It is a huge benefit to [have] that capability in the area.”

Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander of the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, foresees the dock landing ships Germantown and Ashland taking over Osprey refueling duties once the Washington departs.

“We’re doing about 10 refuelings a day. I suspect the Germantown and Ashland will take turns, day after day, and they can each handle the MV-22,” Montgomery said.

The sailors aboard the carrier are enjoying the experience while it lasts.

“The Osprey is a pretty new experience for all of us,” said Airman Samuel Perkins, a GW sailor from Anacortes, Wash. “It’s not too different operational-wise, just some extra safety precautions to take, and it’s pretty fun to be dealing with a new aircraft.”

Perkins said it takes about 10 minutes to deliver 10,000 pounds of fuel to a waiting Osprey.

“I guess the people who feel that the most are those back on the beach who we’re giving aid to,” he said. “If we can get them fueled faster, that’s just how much faster we can get supplies out to them. I feel pretty blessed we’re able to do that.”

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