ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON —
More than 600 U.S. military personnel are currently ashore in the Philippines. The USS George Washington strike group adds another 6,200 sailors supporting air operations, and 1,000 Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are expected to arrive later this week.
"Getting to help people is actually the primary thing that we signed up to do," Toby Pickens, a Navy rescue diver, said after helping off-lift supplies during several hours of helicopter operations from the George Washington. "It's not so much the combat that we are looking for ... Compared to anything else we do, I would say that this is by far the tops."
U.S. military public affairs offices, meanwhile, have been pushing out a torrent of photos, text updates, videos and media packages to play up that message of friendship and support.
Col. Miguel Okol, a spokesman for the Philippine Air Force, said that while he is grateful to the U.S. assistance, he is also keenly aware that this is a military operation, with military implications.
He noted that by working together on humanitarian missions, U.S. and Filipino soldiers are in effect conducting joint military exercises, such as while operating C-130 transport planes. The U.S. has deployed 15 of them in the Philippines, which has three of its own.
"No country buys these kind of transports" purely for humanitarian purposes, he said as he watched two C-130 transport aircraft, one from each country, unload supplies at Villamor Air Base in Manila.
"Together, now, we are doing real operations," he said.
AP writer Jim Gomez contributed to this story from Manila.