© Photo special to The Guardian courtesy of Master Cpl. Marc-Andre Gaudreault
Charlottetown native Warrant Officer James Cormier, from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, Edmonton, removes the transportation kit from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter on Iloilo city airport tarmac during Operation RENAISSANCE the Philippines.
WO Kip Cormier says getting help to Filipinos devestated by typhoon is gratifying
The devastation, recalls Warrant Officer Kip Cormier, first hit like a blow to the gut.
Then it was down to business.
Cormier, an onboard systems specialist, arrived in the Philippines on Nov. 19 to help bring aid via one of the three CH-146 Griffon helicopters sent by Canada to assist with relief efforts in a country reeling from Typhoon Haiyan’s massive destruction.
The warrant officer was quickly confronted by the overwhelming damage caused by the typhoon that struck in early November and has claimed more than 5,600 lives and displaced more than four million people.
His first view from the air, aboard the Griffon, offered a clear indication that plenty of help was needed. A big job faced Cormier and company. He saw roads washed out, bridges gone, trees layered here, there and everywhere and many, many homes demolished.
While Cormier, 45, a native of Charlottetown, says seeing such devastation is hard to swallow, the soldiers are quick to shift their focus to the task at hand.
“Now we’ve seen it, now we have a job to do,’’ he said.
“Smaller communities are really isolated and they just can’t help themselves . . . it really hits home why you are here . . . it’s just one of those things where you say ‘I just want to help’.’’
From their base on the southern portion of the Philippines, he and other soldiers are typically
firing up a Griffon around 7:30 a.m. to prepare for a good eight hours of daily flying.
Cormier’s aircraft is concentrated on one area every day, bringing in medical teams, food, building materials and engineering teams to places in great need of aid.
He says the Griffons, which have played a key role in many national and international humanitarian relief operations, including Manitoba’s Red River flood in 1997, Eastern Canada’s ice storm in 1998, and the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, have been holding up well.
Getting so much help to where help is needed is gratifying, he says. Encountering so much appreciation for the effort is gravy that really fuels Cormier and others.
One Filipino woman, he notes during a telephone interview with The Guardian Monday, grabbed Cormier’s hand, started kissing it, and thanked him.
“The people have been nothing but great to us . . . it’s truly amazing how grateful people are that we are here,’’ he said. “It makes a long day worth it.’’
Cormier, who is stationed with the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Edmonton, is not sure how long his mission will run before he can return home to his wife, Liesa, and the couple’s two sons.
The Griffons are providing support to Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).
“We’re here to get the food and the aid in,’’ he said.
“I know my role. I know my place. I’m here until they tell me I’m going home.’’
This relief effort is the latest in a diverse and fulfilling run for Cormier during 28 years of military service.
He joined the service in Baden, Germany, as an airframe technician, following the path of his father, Jim Cormier, who served with the military as an aircraft technician.
“The man was my hero,’’ he said. “Everything about him, that’s what I wanted to be.’’
Cormier has taken to the sky in military helicopters, the Griffon as well as the Sea King, in a host of roles ranging from serving as a flight engineer as part of a stabilization force in Bosnia in 2003, as well as for search and rescue and relief missions.
His work is often a high-adrenaline affair, suiting him to a tee.
“I say it a lot of times: There’s a whole lot of worse ways to make a living than what I do. It’s a very dynamic job . . . I consider myself fortunate.’’