C-17 crew members reflect on Philippine relief efforts


Days after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippine's eastern seaboard Nov. 8, C-17 Globemaster III crews from the 535th Airlift Squadron began flying sorties in and out of the hardest hit areas as part of Operation Damayan.


Tacloban, the capital city of the Philippine Province Leyte, served as a staging area for international relief efforts, receiving more than 2,080 tons of food, water, machinery and other supplies from Pacific Air Force's aircraft. And what left from Tacloban with the aircraft bound for Manila, was their most precious cargo: people displaced by the storm.


Captain Michael Hank, 535th AS, the aircraft commander of the first C-17 to touch down in Tacloban, said this was an operation that will always stand out to him.


"Relief efforts like this are all about helping others out the way we would want to be helped in our time of need," Hank said. "Our C-17 crew was just a small part of the effort."


Hank and his crew flew 40 sorties in and out of the affected areas, evacuating thousands of people from the hardest hit areas to Manila, where evacuation centers were established.


"I can remember flying in and seeing [what seemed like] 20,000 people at the gates of the flight line waiting to get out of there," he said. "Many of the people we were flying out were women, children and the elderly, so it made it challenging sometimes."


Sometimes the crew members had to do things that they wouldn't normally do on other missions.   


"Me and a couple other guys on the crew had to carry some elderly women onto the aircraft; I couldn't speak their language and they couldn't speak mine," Hank said. "We sat them in their seats and buckled them in. The lady I carried looked at me with a smile on her face, put her hand on my face and kissed me on the cheek, and you just know that is a universal 'thank you.'"


Cargo pallets, heavy machinery, all-terrain vehicles, water purification units and first-aid supplies are just some of the relief items flown in to the area.


Senior Airman Dylan Porras, a C-17 loadmaster with the 535th AS, was on a different crew than Hank for the Operation, but flew similar sorties in, out and around the country.


"It's great to see that the Air Force has the opportunity and manpower to help the Philippines, and the fact that we help makes me feel good to do what I do," Porras said. "Not everyone has the opportunity to participate in this [Operation], so I'm glad I could help," Porras said.