PHILIPPINE SEA – Naval Aircrewman 2nd Class Justin Peach, from Riverside, Calif., has dreamt of being the one to rappel down from a floating platform less than five feet under whirring blades to help strangers in need of assistance.
Peach, assigned to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, lived his dream for the first time as a first responder from the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) in support of Operation Damayan.
It was typical day aboard the George Washington when Peach received news that a super typhoon hit the islands of the Republic of the Philippines and the George Washington Strike Group was directed to provide assistance and relief to the Philippine people.
“Rules and objectives were established in the primary mission brief,” said Peach. “I was concerned about how we were going to provide assistance and protection for the Philippine people.”
In the squadron ready room, after his brief, Peach weighed his green flight suit down with an additional 50 pounds of search and rescue gear in order to be ready for any possible scenario. When the time came, he calmly climbed into an MH-60S Seahawk, from HSC 12, as it took off toward the unknown.
“It’s all about the job and focusing on the task at hand,” said Peach. “I don’t have time to stress.”
After arriving on scene, he saw a small crowd of people waving and rushing toward the helicopter.
“There was a tiny little island,” said Peach. “I had never seen anything like that before; I couldn’t believe that there were people who lived there. When we approached, I was concerned for their safety.
Then I realized the men were directing us to a sand barge where we could hoist down supplies.”
Peach would be the one to descend multiple times to provide nearly 1,000 pounds of food and supplies to help the Philippine civilians. There became an instinctive understanding between him and the natives of this small island — he was there to help and they were grateful.
“I just did my job and didn’t think about anything,” said Peach. “After our mission was done, I was able to reflect and I got excited about what we did. We just helped a lot of people.”
Peach expressed that if it were his family who were in need of help, he would not want anyone else other than U.S. naval aircrewmen to be the ones aiding them, like he did for the Philippine families he came across.
“A lot of people lost loved ones from this typhoon, but I can’t let that get to me,” said Peach. “I have to accept that these circumstances will happen and I have to do my job to help those who I can.”
After a long and hard day, Peach’s helicopter carries him back to George Washington to re-fit and rest before continuing the ongoing operation to rescue, aid and support the Philippine people.
Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda reached speeds up to 195 mph, gusts up to 235 mph and landfall waves of 50 feet. According to the Philippine government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the super typhoon impacted more than 4.2 million people across 36 provinces in the Philippines.
The George Washington Strike Group in coordination with the 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade is assisting the Philippine government in ongoing relief efforts in response to the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Republic of the Philippines.