Sgt. Katlyne Powell, a Philippines native and member of Combat Logistics Battalion 4, helps a displaced Filipino family off the tarmac at Villamor Air Base in Manila on Nov. 21. (Mike Morones/Staff)
VILLAMOR AIR BASE, Manila – the Philippines – On the tarmac here under a beating sun, hundreds of displaced Filipinos emerged from several C-17s, both American and international. As the evacuees were shepherded toward the myriad social and medical services set up at nearby grandstands, Marine Corps Sgt. Katlyne Powell and Lance Cpl. Christopher Pring helped a Filipino family along, keeping an eye on a small child and carrying bags.
Powell is assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 4 out of Camp Foster, Okinawa, the unit tasked with keeping material and people flowing through the air base on their way to and from the typhoon-ravaged south.
For her, Operation Damayan is more than just an assignment to the Philippines, it is a homecoming.
“It feels good as a Filipino to know that everybody is so willing to help in support of the operation,” she said, standing amid pallets of USAID relief supplies.
While she initially wanted to be in the southern part of the country, where the damage was greatest, Powell appreciates that her job in Manila, some 350 miles from Tacloban, the city most damaged by the storm, is essential to the joint effort to help storm victims.
“As a Filipino and United States Marine, I’m glad to be here, whether I’m in Tacloban or Leyte.”
The early days of the relief effort were tough, she said.
“I’m a mom; I see kids coming out of the aircraft. The first few days were emotionally draining, to say the least. It’s great seeing people coming of of the C-130s with smiles on their face — it’s like that hope.”
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ramon Paolo Bayas, serving aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington near Guiuan, left the Philippines in 1997 and hasn’t been back until this week.
“It’s really an honor coming back with the U.S. Navy after being gone so long and coming back to help as a sailor,” he said.
Bayas, who spent time working in Guiuan and eastern Samar, said he was shocked by seeing the devastation up close. News reports are simply unable to convey the magnitude of destruction, he said. For miles, trees with no leaves litter the ground like matchsticks.
“From the air they don’t look that big, but on the ground you see how big they are,” he said. “All the houses were gone or ruined.”
Bayas said he was struck by the locals who asked him in Tagalog, a language he can still speak, if he is Filipino.
“I think the biggest thing about the people that impacted me was they were offering me food. I’m here to help you, but they’re welcoming me, to give me food.”