Tacloban, Part IV

I got an incredible opportunity recently to go to the typhoon disaster
zone in the Philippines to help with relief efforts. The next few posts
are going to be a series, things I wrote to kind of decompress after
returning to my regular mission.

When we finally did manage to load
people at night it was almost accidental. We still had several hundred people
on the tarmac. Marilee’s group had long since been overrun and surrounded and
even though they had originally been first in line they were now completely
enveloped by this new crowd, and this new crowd was big, and not willing to go
back to their old places by the main gate. Airplanes were going to land all night
starting at 10:00 PM so I rushed down to the airfield after supper and started
trying to organize a night rescue. First I pleaded with the crowd through the
police guards, telling them that airplanes were going to be coming and going
all night, but that we were being told we could not load them if people were
going to be bum rushing them. I explained that if they could all be patient and
wait their turn, then we would be able to load many airplanes and get hundreds
of them out. If any of them pushed or tried to run around the line, we would
have to cut it off and then no one would get out until the next day.
The crazy thing is that it worked.
They were still panicky, and they still begged and pleaded to be put on the
airplane first, but there was very little pushing and shoving, very little
trying to sneak around the group to get in. Most of those who snuck around the
group to cut in line were officers and their families, who seemed to think that
the rules did not apply to them.
I had a Philippines Air Force
lieutenant who spoke excellent English and got the problem. He understood.
There was also an Air Force corporal, a lowly corporal with crazy poofy hair,
who likewise got the concept. Between them they were worth more than all the
senior officers on the scene put together. They were the ones doing the actual
work of setting up the police cordon around the crowd, directing police to the
areas they needed to be, deciding who was going to be pulled out of the crowd
first, setting them in lines of ten and keeping order among the lines. They did
the work of making sure the lines were single-file, and no one cut from one
line to the next. They were not afraid physically to grab people and set them
down where they needed them to be.
It is remarkable how little actual
work I did. A lot of running back and forth, seeing potential problems and
yelling them over the engine noise, directly into the ear of the lieutenant,
but they did all the actual work. Why did I get so tired then? Possibly
because, once again, I had been going for about 20 hours by the time I turned
in. It was worth it though. I had finally gotten a system built that allowed us
to load at night. It wasn’t really me building it, I just happened to be around
when a whole bunch of factors over which I had no control all came together,
and I saw that the time was right and we got to it and it worked. I was able to
teach it to two US Marine E-5’s (Sergeants) who took it and ran with it. I sometimes make fun of jarheads, but these two were good dudes, smart, compassionate, and squared the heck away.
One of them looked like the Terminator. Even I felt small next to him.
Between them and the Filipino Air Force folks, they loaded 250 more people between the time I went to bed at about 12:30 AM and 4 AM. When I checked back in with them the following midnight, they were still going. 
That was a good night’s work.

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