A first for 2 Wing

News Article / December 16, 2013

By Captain Josée Bilodeau

Following Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines on November 8, 2013, Canada deployed the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to bring humanitarian aid to the stricken region.

Four specialists from 2 Wing Bagotville, Quebec, are working within the headquarters of the Disaster Assistance Response Team: Sergeant Francis Verdon, an intelligence operator; Captain Janaya Hansen, a logistics officer; Major Stéphann Grégoire, an air traffic controller by training who is working as an air force liaison officer; and Lieutenant Colonel Sabin Tremblay, the commander of the Air Task Force – Philippines.

“We’re all from the expeditionary wing. This is our first operational deployment since the wing’s inception. This is what we were set up for; this is our raison d’être! I was the first to arrive in 2 Air Expeditionary Support Squadron and I’m proud to be the first one deployed,” said Major Grégoire.

In 2007, the Minister of National Defence announced that an Air Expeditionary Wing – 2 Wing – would be established at Bagotville, Quebec. Its role is to activate, support and conduct air operations from an expeditionary air base in Canada or abroad in support of national taskings. The Wing will house 1 Air Expeditionary Support Squadron and 2 Air Expeditionary Support Squadron.

"I’ve been part of other missions over my career: the Golan Heights, Sudan and Afghanistan, but this is by far the most gratifying one I’ve contributed to," Major Grégoire continued.

As liaison officer for Air Task Force – Philippines, Maj Grégoire coordinates helicopter operations to optimize the humanitarian aid efforts, expand the reach of DART medical personnel to isolated regions and provide reconnaissance services and assistance as needed.

"I have to ensure that the efforts of all organizations present in the region, military and civilian, are appropriately supported by available air resources. In that sense, I work closely with the non-governmental organizations on the ground. The first one we offered our resources to was Blake Audsley of the United Nations World Food Program. Right from the get-go, he told us, yes, that’s great, I’ve got 14 tons of material to be transported. That’s quite a challenge!

"But once he understood what we were dealing with, he quickly adapted to our operations and it was fantastic."

When aircraft start flying in an operational theatre, the first thing that needs to be done is ensure the safety of the air environment, both on the ground and in the air. That important task falls to Sergeant Francis Verdon, who is in charge of providing intelligence support.

"My role is to gather and analyze all available information to be able to advise the Air Task Force – Philippines commander about any potential risks to our personnel and our aircraft. In addition to working with the DART intelligence officer and the one from the Philippine army, I work closely with the [non-governmental organizations] involved in the relief and stability operations being conducted on Panay Island.”

"Since this is an aspect of air operations that civilians are not very familiar with, I have to make sure they understand that we’re all working towards the same goal, which is to get the humanitarian aid to the population—and that doesn’t happen unless there’s operational security," explained Sergeant Verdon.

Aircraft safety is vital, but those aircraft would not be able to fly without the contributions of Captain Janaya Hansen. Captain Hansen is responsible for all air logistics support to Air Task Force – Philippines as well as for the delivery of humanitarian aid supplies to support the day-to-day operations of the Disaster Assistance Response Team in the Philippines.

"My job is to provide the air force with the resources they need to accomplish the mission, like for example fuel and aircraft parts. Another aspect of my duties is to negotiate the contracts with the various airports we’re dealing with here in operational theatre, and those that are more specifically related to the purchase of fuel. Because the fuel procurement process is different for every country, and because the current situation in the Philippines is critical, at the beginning of the mission, purchasing fuel posed a challenge every day.

"In that regard, the relationship we established with the multinational coordinating centre located in Manila, together with the different accords we have with NATO and United Nations forces like – for example – the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement  and the Standardization Agreement, were extremely helpful to us when we needed to obtain fuel, parts, transportation or food quickly," explained Captain Hansen.

"In short, I am in charge of comprehensive support to Air Task Force – Philippines, which also means taking care of the air force members deployed to Iloilo and Roxas, whether it be providing mail service to them or resolving any situations they might run into regarding their pay or their claims," she said.

To support the operations of the DART throughout the mission, various elements of the Royal Canadian Air Force have been deployed or involved on Operation Renaissance. Initially, a CC-144 Challenger transported the interdepartmental strategic support team to the Philippines. A CC-150 Polaris and three CC-177 Globemaster III aircraft transported personnel and equipment to the Philippines, and CH-146 Griffon helicopters were used in the Philippines to transport personnel and supplies and to conduct medical evacuations.

"The airlift we’ve put in place is a good demonstration of the flexibility and capacity of the Royal Canadian Air Force to move all of the necessary materiel, equipment and troops forward, over great distances, to accomplish a mission like this one.

"On Panay Island, the tactical aviation helicopters enable the DART mobile medical teams and UN World Food Program staff to have considerable freedom of movement over the entire territory," said Lieutenant Colonel Tremblay, the commander of the Air Task Force – Philippines.

"As for the Challenger CC-144, in addition to its official functions, it facilitated the evacuation of a young female patient in critical condition to Manila," he added.

"When I arrived in Manila, with the Humanitarian Assistance Reconnaissance Team (HART) of the Canadian Armed Forces, I met a young woman who was telling us that her family hadn’t received any aid whatsoever to that point. And when she found out the next morning that we were deploying to Panay Island, she ran up and threw her arms around me, explaining that she came from that region of the Philippines and that that was where her whole family lived," said Major Grégoire.  

"Since that day, I have been seeing the situation evolving and I would even say improving. My dad was asking me on Skype if I was happy with how things were going.

"I told him, we’re not changing the world, but we’re giving the people some hope," said Major Grégoire.


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