MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
Exercise PHIBLEX 11, which was scheduled to run until Sunday, was cut short due to the forecast of the category five super typhoon Megi headed for the Philippines Oct. 18.
“This is a very large annual event that we have come to rely upon in efforts to improve our relationship, our understanding and our interoperability,” said Brig. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, III Marine Expeditionary Force deputy commanding general and III Marine Expeditionary Brigade commanding general. “While we are here for the official opening of the exercise today, this exercise has been a year in preparation and more than a month of actual execution.”
Brilakis gave a speech during the PHIBLEX 11 opening ceremony just two days before the exercise was canceled.
Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 was scheduled to conduct bilateral close-air support and air-to-air training with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Marine Aircraft Group 36 and the Philippine Air Force throughout the exercise.
Once the status of the typhoon was confirmed, VMFA(AW)-224, along with the MEU and several other units that participated in the exercise, called an end to the exercise and headed for safe ground.
“The forecast winds were going to be category one, which is around 80 something knots upwards to 160 knots of wind,” said Maj. Jeremy Hall, VMFA(AW)-224 operations officer. “It was really force preservation for the aircraft more than anything,” he said about ending the exercise.
Super typhoon Megi, the 10th and strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2010, hit Isabela province on Monday and was heading west-southwest on the main island of Luzon with winds up to 117 mph.
“The ramps where the aircraft were parked were not designed to house our aircraft,” said Hall. “There were no tie down points embedded in the pavement to use chain. So without that, basically the only way to keep the airplanes secure were by chocks, and the chocks will not hold up to those kinds of winds.”
With approximately 88 flights scheduled daily throughout the exercise, 24 were completed by the close of the exercise.
“The other concern was if we left our jets in place, there was a very good chance that we would lose power to the base and the ability to provide support services to launch airplanes.”
It was clear the decision to evacuate was more than necessary after Megi took its toll on the Philippines, causing its predicted damage and more.
VMFA(AW)-224 is currently back on station and is scheduled to participate in a three-part exercise in November.