As parts of the Philippines struggle to recover from Typhoon Haiyan, a local native is serving aboard a Navy vessel providing relief.
Airman Jennifer L. Confer, 22, a Town of Tonawanda native, is working on the flight deck of the USS Ashland in the Leyte Gulf off the coast of the Philippines. A photo on the ship’s official Facebook page shows Confer using hand signals to direct an MV-22 Osprey, a tilt rotor aircraft used by the Marines. The same picture was one of four “images of the day” on the Navy’s website.
Her work directing the aircraft made Confer part of a bit of history: Officials from the ship said it was the first time an Osprey had ever landed on the USS Ashland.
The Ospreys and the Navy’s MH-60 Seahawk helicopters are ferrying water and supplies from the vessel to shore, aiding Filipinos affected by the massive Nov. 7 storm that, by latest count, had killed more than 5,200 and caused widespread destruction. The aircraft are considered essential for reaching people in isolated areas.
Confer said the USS Ashland is too far from land to see the effects of the typhoon, but she knows that she and her shipmates are making an impact. “It feels good to be able to help out,” Confer said in a phone interview from the ship.
Confer graduated from Kenmore West High School in 2009. During her two years in the Navy, she has traveled extensively through Asia. She comes from a military-family background, which prompted her own interest in joining.
The ship’s Facebook page describes how the USS Ashland quickly shifted gears – from port maintenance and training in Japan, to emergency relief – after Haiyan struck the Philippines.
The vessel arrived in the Leyte Gulf on Nov. 20 in support of what is called Operation Damayan. Confer is working 12-hour shifts as the Ospreys and Seahawks travel back and forth from the USS Ashland.
“It’s nonstop all day,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is asking all parishes to take up a special collection on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, to support Catholic Relief Services’ work to help victims of the typhoon.