Sailor Returns to Devastated Home, Assists Typhoon Victims

Sailor Returns to Devastated Home, Assists Typhoon Victims
Story Number: NNS080628-17 6/28/2008

By LT Ron Flanders, Carrier Strike Group 7 Public Affairs

ILOILO, Republic of the Philippines (NNS) -- A USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Sailor, Storekeeper Seaman Grace Geroche, a native of Iloilo City, Republic of the Philippines, returned home June 27 to assist the joint Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and U.S. Navy humanitarian efforts and console her family, who nearly lost their lives when Typhoon Fengshen struck the area.

Geroche's mother and 5-year-old brother were among the affected when the typhoon caused water levels in the city to increase by several feet in the span of just a few hours.

"We almost lost our lives," said Edna Geroche, Seaman Geroche's mother. "The water was up to our necks. We had to sleep in the rafters under our ceiling. We were lucky to survive, but the situation is still bad. There's mud everywhere, and there's no clean water for drinking or bathing."

Seaman Geroche is a member of Ronald Reagan's supply department, which provided more than 28,000 bottles of water and 9,060 lbs. of rice to residents of Panay, an island in the central portion of the Republic of the Philippines. Flown to her hometown aboard a C-2 Greyhound aircraft filled with non-perishable food items, Geroche -- a member of the U.S. Navy's humanitarian assistance team -- had an emotional reunion with her family before assisting U.S. Navy personnel and Philippine Army soldiers load and unload relief supplies.

"I'm so grateful to be assigned to USS Ronald Reagan right now," said Geroche. "I'm so thankful that we're here assisting the people of my hometown."

HH-60H and SH-60F Seahawk helicopters from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4, embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan, SH-60B Seahawk helicopters from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) 43, embarked aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83), and Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) 37, embarked aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43) have spent the last four days delivering relief supplies brought to Panay by the AFP and non-governmental relief organizations. C-2A Greyhound aircraft from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 have also been instrumental in shuttling relief supplies to Iloilo's Cabatuan airport, the central hub of relief operations.

The efforts have been a portrait of teamwork; AFP personnel are in each helicopter flight, and AFP officers are aboard USS Ronald Reagan, working with the ship's Crisis Action Team (CAT), which helps respond to humanitarian emergencies.

"The AFP commanders are telling me my mission," said Rear Adm. Phil Wisecup, commander of the U.S. Navy ships involved in the effort. "We're doing everything we can to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines. We'll stay here as long as the government of the Philippines requires it and no longer."

The mission is giving Filipino-Americans a chance to provide needed assistance in their native homeland, an emotional experience to say the least, considering the devastation caused by the typhoon, which left 540 dead on Panay and destroyed more than 100,000 homes.

"My mom saw me on TV," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Robert Catre, a medic and translator for the U.S. Navy humanitarian team. "I feel great about what we're doing here."

"I was terrified for my wife," said Storekeeper 1st Class Raymond Paguia of USS Howard, whose wife Mahrnee lives in Iloilo. "I was just waiting for the call, trying to get here. I'm so proud to be an American Sailor right now, doing this."

For Seaman Geroche, the emotions were strong. The 22-year-old Sailor helped load rice for delivery to her neighbors and countrymen, and was able to console her family at the same time.

"When President Bush sent us here, I was happy. I was hoping I'd get this chance to see my family. It felt good to hug my mom and tell her everything will be OK now," said Geroche.

With her mother's arms wrapped around her, tears streamed down Geroche's face. "I'm home Mommy," she said. "I'm home." - Timeline 2008