USS RONALD REAGAN, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) commemorated the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Fengshen relief efforts, while transiting the Sulu Sea near the Republic of the Philippines June 21.
The ship took advantage of her proximity to Panay, the same island where the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group responded almost exactly one year ago, assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of the typhoon.
For the anniversary commemoration, Ronald Reagan hosted a delegation of distinguished guests from the Philippines, including senior-ranking AFP officials, remembering the relief efforts with a special ceremony.
"There is no greater reward, no greater feeling than knowing you have helped a people, a dear friend and an important ally when they needed it most," said Rear Adm. Scott Hebner, commander of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. "It is, after all, what friends do."
Under Secretary Ernesto Carolina of the Republic of the Philippines' Department of Defense and Vice Adm. Ferdinand Golez, flag officer in command, Philippine Navy, joined Capt. Kenneth Norton, Ronald Reagan's commanding officer, in a wreath-laying ceremony. Carolina and Golez set the wreath into the ocean to honor the teamwork of those who participated in the relief efforts and to remember the victims of the typhoon.
"The wreath symbolizes the spirit of brotherhood, the best in people and the enduring friendship between our two nations," said Carolina. "The heroes, the Sailors of USS Ronald Reagan, they are the ones who delivered the goods to help our people and make them smile. The Filipino people are very grateful."
During its role in the relief mission, June 25-July 3, 2008, the Ronald Reagan Strike Group helped deliver 519,000 pounds of rice, fresh water and medical supplies to victims of Typhoon Fengshen. More than a dozen helicopters staging from six strike group ships flew relief supplies from the airport in Iloilo to remote areas in Panay unreachable due to flooded roads.
"I'm coming up on twenty-eight years of a commissioned service, and of all the missions I've done, the Panay humanitarian mission was the one I'm most proud of," said Norton. "Our Sailors helped people who were on the brink of despair. It's great to see and hear today that the island of Panay is in much better shape, thanks in part to our Sailors."
In conjunction with the commemoration ceremony, Reagan dispatched a team of Sailors to Panay to restore Pavia National High School, which was damaged by the typhoon a year ago. Along with some local ROTC cadets, Sailors painted classrooms and laid concrete for a new building.
Storekeeper 3rd Class (AW) Grace Geroche, a Reagan Sailor and native of Panay, attended Pavia National High School from 1998 to 2002 and participated in the restoration project. It was a much happier homecoming for Geroche, who a year ago had to help her family sweep mud out of her flooded home.
"It feels good to restore the high school I once attended," said Geroche. "I wouldn't be where I am right now, if not for where I came from and where I grew up. It's always nice to give back to those people, especially my teachers, who are still there teaching and make an effort for you to learn.
Ronald Reagan and embarked Carrier Air Wing 14 are currently on deployment to the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility. Reagan is joined by the other ships of her strike group, including the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), and the ships of Destroyer Squadron 7, which include the guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Howard (DDG 83) and USS Gridley (DDG 101), and the guided-missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43).
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