ACCE and PAF air chiefs reaffirm deep bonds during Operation Damayan
VILLAMOR AIR BASE, Manila -- Brig. Gen. James Hecker, commander of Air Component Coordination Element, Joint Task Force 505, met with Lt. Gen. Lauro Dela Cruz, the commanding general of the Philippine Air Force at Villamor Air Base, to discuss the unique value that airpower lends to humanitarian aid mission Operation Damayan Nov. 21, 2013.
During the meeting, both Hecker and Dela Cruz spoke of the immense capability that airlift delivers to those in need during times of crises.
Hecker expressed his deepest condolences to the Philippine people, especially the three deceased and two missing PAF members who perished in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.
"Our Airmen are proud to be of service during your time of need," Hecker said. "That's what good friends and allies do for one another, and I know that if it was us, you would do the same thing."
Hecker, who leads the ACCE responsible for integrating and coordinating joint and multinational air assets, said that airlift support to the Philippine government during Operation Damayan was possible due to the close relationship each nation shares.
Continued participation and cooperation during exercises such as Balikatan, Pacific Angel and Pacific Unity is vital to improving interoperability amongst the Pacific allies, Hecker said.
Hecker thanked Dela Cruz for Philippine support during Operation Damayan, and for allowing U.S. forces the opportunity to assist at numerous bases, including Villamor, Clark and Mactan.
Dela Cruz expressed his deep gratitude for U.S Airmen's assistance during Operation Damayan, especially the unique capability they bring to the mission.
"This relief effort has revived the Filipino spirit of helping-out each other, or 'bayanihan,'" Dela Cruz said. "People from all walks of life have come together to lend their help."
Following the meeting, Hecker traveled to Clark Air Base to meet with Airmen deployed with the 36th Contingency Response Group, Andersen AFB, Guam; 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan; and 353rd Special Operations Group, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. He also visited with and thanked Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 36, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan.
"I can't express enough how proud I am of the job you all do," Hecker said. "You do it so well--thank you."
Joining Hecker was Chief Master Sgt. Baird Stiefel, superintendent of the 36th Contingency Response Group and senior enlisted advisor for ACCE, JTF-505.
"We're supporting the Philippine mission as Americans--not as Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers or Marines," Stiefel said as he met with service members. "This has been a total force effort."
During their visit, Hecker and Stiefel presented coins of recognition to several Airmen and Marines for their efforts during Operation Damayan, including Staff Sgt. Aaron Burk, a contingency response team leader assigned to the 36th Mobile Readiness Squadron, Andersen Air Base, Guam.
"It's great to be a part of this team," said Burk. "This is what we're built for--to help."