“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

Early this year, the country was stunned when Taal Volcano erupted suddenly and spewed plume of ashes around 100 meters high directly distressing surrounded barangays of Taal Lake in Batangas. Residents of the province went in panic as they call for evacuation and support from the local government agencies. 

Heeding to the need for transport during evacuation, a team of soldiers from 4th Forward Service Support Unit (4th FSSU), 1st Logistics Support Group (LSG), Army Support Command, Philippine Army (ASCOM, PA) immediately responded to the situation. Without much hesitation, LTC Joseph F Manangan OS (GSC) PA, unit commander, consolidated his troops and joined with other 21 responders to direct them all the way from Camp Nakar, Lucena City, Quezon to Talisay, Batangas on the night of January 12. Their mission: to transport evacuees from affected barangays of that town to designated evacuation centers for safety. They deployed five Army trucks – one 1 ½ Ton KM450 and four 5 Ton M19A23 trucks – to support the evacuation and transport of evacuees. Other Army mobile assets came later from other units to provide assistance in transporting more evacuees as the numbers increased. The next day, January 13, ASCOM units from Manila sent for additional mobile equipment and personnel while, troops of 5th FSSU arrived from Legazpi City, Albay on January 14. 

The 4th (D’ Provider) FSSU is one of the units of Army Support Command, Philippine Army (ASCOM, PA), created and strategically located at various geographical locations to provide logistical and service support to all AFP units in the country. The unit is stationed at Camp Guillermo Nakar, Lucena City, Quezon province that presently caters to PA units within Region IV. When Taal volcano erupted, it is one of the units that immediately responded to heavily affected victims by providing immediate and safe transport to different barangays in Batangas during evacuation. 

For Sgt Michael Mendaros, one of the first responders, this is just but another opportunity to dedicate his life for others. Always in the context of serving and saving the people in time of need, his experiences equip him more to have that high sense of vigilance and responsibility especially during humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations of the unit. He shared that during the travel to Batangas on that night of January 12, the troops remained in high morale despite of the situation. “Nagsimula kaming mag-transport ng tao noong gabi na pumutok ang Taal. Bale, kumukuha kami ng tao mula sa Talisay at mga kalapit na bayan patungong Sto. Tomas, Batangas. Halos kami ang pinakaunang nagresponde sa mga nagsilikas,” he recalled. 

Being in the service for 15 years, Sergeant Mendaros understand how important it is to respond promptly during calamities. He is also considered a veteran in terms of maneuvering mobility assets and equipment of the Philippine Army driving the likes of 5 Ton M19A23 Truck, 2 ½ ton KM250 and many others. 

Remembering his Taal experience, Sergeant Mendaros said that from January 12 to 14, it was difficult to drive the trucks because the volcano was still spewing muds and ashes.  “Sa unang gabi ng paghahatid ng mga tao sa evacuation centers, walang tulugan buong magdamag ang tropa.” According to him, the unit has good conditioned trucks that withstood ashes and muds during the transport as they relied on local government agencies conducting clearing operations in the roads. For the troops, the condition was fine and manageable as long as trucks can enter barangays to transport people. Per record, they were able to transport more or less 2,000 individuals in two days. Sgt Mendaros shared that evacuees were teary eyed with joy because the soldiers saved them during the height of the disaster. “Bakas sa kanilang mga mukha ang kasiyahan dahil nailikas namin sila.” 

Notwithstanding the day-to-day dangers due to the alarming condition of the volcano during the time, the troop continued to serve because they only think that the welfare of the people is the main thrust entrusted to them. They are convinced that no other people could rescue these victims in this heartbreaking crisis except them who were at the front. They are happy that they were the first to heed on the call to serve.

The residents also did their fair share of goodness in exchange for the service of the troops. People along the way offered to clean their windshields through water sprayers as their trucks passed by. They also gave them surgical masks and drinking water as expression of gratitude to the troops. Troopers of 4th FSSU continued to transport more evacuees in the next three days in Talisay before they were transferred to Fernando Air Base, Lipa City as their next station. They brought kitchen utensils, food packs, and water because they knew they would be deployed there for quite some time. Besides, they were also ashamed to get those from the civilians. 

As of writing this article, they have not yet gone back to their unit in Lucena City. They are still on the alert and on stand by mode waiting to where they will be needed. As of late, they are transporting some evacuees back to their homes after Taal Volcano alarm was lowered to Level III. Only one thing is for sure; their dedication will be an exhilarating experience because it is an intense effort applied toward a meaningful end.