By Erika Webb
Paul Slavin and Melissa Jacalan Slavin of Port Orange planned their Nov. 22 trip to Cebu City in the Philippines well in advance of disaster.
Mrs. Slavin's immediate family in Cebu was unharmed when one of the worst storms on record, Typhoon Haiyan, assaulted the region Nov. 8.
But tragedy struck close. Her sister-in-law's uncle and nephew drowned in the onslaught that ravaged Bantayan Island, one of around 7,000 islands in the Philippines.
Thirteen days later, as the Slavins prepared to depart, the death toll was 5,000 and counting, according to an article in the Manila Bulletin.
Until it was time to leave, all Mrs. Slavin could do was watch the news and pray.
She's only lived in the United States for three years and was moved to tears by Americans' outpouring of love and affection for the Filipino people as well as for her personally.
"When we found out about the typhoon ... it's very sad, but my wife ... when all of our friends called to ask about her, it was very touching," Mr. Slavin said.
He's been to the Philippines three other times.
"It's very crowded and the thing that has really affected me is there's a lot of poor people there, out on the street begging for food, more than in America," Mr. Slavin said. "That really had an effect on me."
He said transportation in the Philippines is slow and also very crowded.
As his wife watched the news, Mr. Slavin said she remarked with astonishment, "Look at all of these Navy people, the Marines."
The USS George Washington, with its 6,250-member crew, arrived Nov. 12 as part of Joint Task Force 505 Operation Dayaman.
"USS George Washington (CVN-73) is an American nuclear-powered supercarrier, the sixth ship in the Nimitz class and the fourth U.S. Navy ship to be named after George Washington, the first president of the United States," according to the ship's website.
JTF 505 includes nearly 850 personnel on the ground and an additional 6,200 in the USS George Washington Strike Group in addition to 1,000 Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, according to the U.S Department of Defense website. Personnel and equipment from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have arrived in the region from Hawaii, Okinawa, mainland Japan and the continental United States.
"The joint task force will integrate and coordinate with foreign military units and nongovernmental relief organizations supporting the disaster efforts, officials said," defense.gov reported.
Joining the massive relief effort are Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Ammons from New Smyrna Beach and ICFN Andrew Grosswald from Deltona. Both are aboard the USS George Washington.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle E. Ammons graduated from New Smyrna Beach High School and joined the Navy in 2009.
He is serving aboard USS George Washington as a Cryptologic Technician Technical, performing a variety of specialized duties associated with the collection and processing of airborne, shipborne and land-based radar signals, according to a U.S. Navy news release.
"I view the relief as a good way to show the world how the USN can be a force for peace and help countries when they are unable to help themselves at the time. I have not had boots on the ground experience for the relief in the Philippines," Sailor Ammons wrote in an emailed response to questions. "My ship has been supplying fresh water, food and medical supplies for the relief and acting as a refueling station for the helos (helicopters) and Ospreys."
Most relief days are "business as usual until additional bodies are needed by our supply department to move supplies," he noted.
"I have personally helped create pamphlets that are dropped from our helos stating where the disaster survivors can go to receive supplies. I have also helped move supplies to our helos for the shore," Sailor Ammons wrote.
Sailor Grosswald is looking forward to coming home for Christmas. His family and friends spent October and early November holding carwashes in Deltona to raise the funds for an airline ticket.
But for now, there's work to do.
Sailor Grosswald joined the Navy in 2011, right after graduating from Pine Ridge High School in Deltona.
In a previous interview, he told Hometown News he helps take care of all that is vital to ship's navigation and operability, including ship instrument and indicating circuit enhancements.
"We IC men maintain all communication within the ship," he said.
In the midst of the relief effort Sailor Grosswald responded via email to say, "I am super busy right now. There is not much free time between work and sleep."
He offered his apologies for not having time to provide more details, but said he is very appreciative for all of the support from home.
Granted, he experienced three hurricanes in 2004 and endured living without power for weeks, but the sailor described the carnage in the Philippines as "crazy."
Sailor Grosswald's mother, Christine Grosswald, will hear all about it soon.
"I am so proud of him and excited he has this opportunity to help the Philippine people," she said.
Mr. Slavin said his wife remembers flooding in her homeland back in 1990 when she was "a little kid," but experienced nothing like early November's rampage.
"Even though they get a lot of storms, these devastating storms are not normal, no way," Mr. Slavin said.
The Filipino American Association of Volusia County (FAAVCO) in Daytona Beach strives to promote and preserve the rich Filipino cultural heritage and traditions, according to its website. The organization also works to "promote and instill among family members the virtues and traits Filipinos are known for: Honest, cheerful, helpful, dependable, hospitable, hardworking, and compassionate."
They are asking for donations to be sent to: FAAVCO Typhoon Relief, 1245 Suwannee Road, Daytona Beach, FL 32114.
Also, the group is having a Christmas ball and children's party at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. The cost is $45 and formal attire is required.
Donations will be accepted at the door for relief efforts.
For reservations or information, call (386) 589-8138 or (386) 492-4119.
As this goes to press Mr. and Mrs. Slavin will be in the tropics, but rest and relaxation may elude them this trip.
Hopefully there will be moments to enjoy the region's natural treasures.
"Oh, there are beautiful areas," Mr. Slavin said. "If you travel to the islands, it's very exotic nature-wise, very beautiful. The ocean is very beautiful."
Mrs. Slavin is anxious to reconnect and reassure.
"At this time I am looking forward to going home and see my family for the first time in three years," Mrs. Slavin said. "I can only ask God for the answers as to why this thing has happened, though I know there's no answer for it. We can only move forward to help as many people as we can."
"I would also like to express my great gratitude for all of those people who have come forward and offered their help," she added. "It makes me proud to be here in America."