I will never complain about a bad day at work ever in my life again. At least not until I join the army.
To compare your worst day at work with their worst day at work is just unbelievable. Everyone has bad days, but if you happen to be part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines the day Haiyan hammered its way through Tacloban, well… let’s just say the word HERO will be redefined forever as courage, strength, and purpose in the human heart.
Picture the scene: it’s 6 a.m. and water is flooding the building you live in rapidly– so rapidly that in less than 10 minutes, you and your squad mates are on the rooftop of that building. Visibility is zero beyond the length of the average dinner table. Everywhere, the wind is whistling angrily. It is deafening. Unrelenting.
There’s rain—sure, but more disturbingly, there are waves. Yes. On shore– while you stand on the building roof. These waves are slamming into that building in such a way that you know for sure it’s going to crumble. The water rises. You dodge debris in the form of plywood and corrugated steel roofing. One simple truth blossoms in its fullness: this building is going down, and the tide will take all of you.
Does this happen? Absolutely. In an instant, waves wash you and your team away, scattering you in all directions. It is literally every man for himself at this point. Another simple truth blossoms: it is very possible that you will die here. Today– on the very next day after your superiors give you orders that your team should be the first responders. The irony at the moment is the fact that you are the one who needs rescue.
Are you brought out far into sea? Are you carried by the pounding waves all the way from the Tacloban Airport (which was where your building used to be) to the San Juanico Bridge? Are you clinging for dear life to a tall tree that seems to stand its ground?
Let’s say you manage to grab hold of an electric post. You’d think the plan would be simple from then on: just grab hold till the rain stops. Survive. Then plan your next move from there.
Because the same waves that took down your building are still around, and they are as merciless as they are marginally predictable.
While you hold on to your post, the waves are crashing. They come, they go. You learn quickly that the best thing to do when a wave hits is go right down with it. Don’t fight it. Work with it. The second it’s done, and you have a moment to grab some air, you do because the next one is coming.
Down you go as the wave pummels your whole body. Up you go when it ebbs to grab air. You anticipate that you will be submerged once again as the succeeding waves arrive. For two hours, you do this dance of life and death. Down. Hold. Up. Gasp. Down again and so on.
You have, at this point, prayed to God and every saint imaginable, for deliverance and safety. At the same time, you silently make your peace with the world in case the waves kill you.
But miraculously, the force of the storm slackens. The waters recede ever so slowly, until finally, the storm is gone, and you are on solid ground.
You survey the wreckage, and immediately, your training takes hold of you. You have no time to ponder how well you are because the first order of business is to find others who have survived.
You are still the first responders in the storm. So the next hour or so is spent regrouping. Some of you are missing. Some of you are injured. You have just survived the wrath of the strongest recorded typhoon on earth, and your brain has no time to process that information fully. It is up to you to care for the others who, like you, have hopefully survived.
After determining who are fit to do search and rescue, and who are too injured to go on, you set out with what’s left of your squad.
Everywhere there’s wreckage: buildings, houses, debris, and… the dead. But you are not here for the dead. Not yet. You are here for the living. There will be time to mourn, but it is not now. Now is the time to locate survivors.
True enough, you find them. Forlorn and devastated by their personal tragedies, you see the evidence of their pain strewn about like the bodies on the streets. You herd the survivors to a safe location. In this case, it is the nearby police station that miraculously survived the deluge.
You scavenge for food. You spy some bananas and coconuts. You know there is clean liquid inside the coconuts.
The rest of the morning and afternoon are spent doing this: locating survivors and rations.
Eventually, the decision to halt all efforts that day has to be made– not because you have to clock out at a certain time, but because you need to save your strength. You vaguely know that reinforcements ought to be on their way, but for now, you need to be wise. You cannot afford to kill yourself looking for more survivors. You are needed. No matter how much more you want to help, wisdom takes precedent.
You leave the survivors and come back to what’s left of your base of operations. You discover that a communications tower has survived. You find out that help has been radioed out to Manila, and that a C130 is flying in to relieve you and your men of duty, and to spirit you away to be debriefed and treated medically.
Great news– except that the runway is covered in debris. As the last leg of your long bad day at work, you clear the runway of wreckage to make room for the C130 to land.
This is how your day ends. You are a soldier. You are a survivor. You are a hero. You have no time to think of things other than:, “There are more people who need help.”
This was the account of two soldiers who were on the ground when Haiyan devastated Tacloban City. They were good men– men who know that the life they have now is their second.
By Macky Santiago