Air Force gives hero's welcome for airmen who helped liberate Marawi

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — They were the smallest unit in terms of size, but apparently they played the biggest role in the liberation of Marawi.

After keeping a low profile after the Marawi war, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is now getting the praise it deserves.

About a thousand airmen deployed to Marawi were given honors in a ceremony at the Villamor Airbase on Monday.

"The success of the liberation of Marawi, more than 50 percent of that, sa tulong ng Philippine Air Force [is with the help of the Philippine Air Force]," said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

RELATED: Emotional sendoff for Marawi troops

Even newly retired Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Eduardo Año said the war could have dragged on if not for the Air Forces' air assets.

"Probably another six months. Because it would just be pure ground fighting. And the enemy is exploiting the structures, the setting of the urban city," he added.

RELATED: Fighting in Marawi City is over

Ground commanders said the Air Force was the game changer.

In particular, they raved over how the FA-50 jets that were acquired in 2014, dropped powerful bombs that flushed out Maute fighters from their hideouts and crippled enemy defense.

"'Yung FA-50, there are 43 Abu Sayyaf-Maute killed in one hit," Galvez said.

But more than the air assault, the air assets were also vital in moving troops in and out of the battle zone, resupplying combat needs including ammunition – and more importantly, evacuating casualties.

Honored, celebrated

Some of the airmen spoke to CNN Philippines Monday, but their identities could not be revealed for security reasons.

One pilot evacuated wounded soldiers even under heavy enemy fire.

A pilot of a UH-1H helicopter of 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing, he said: "Iniisip ko na, ito para sa bayan 'to, para sa kapwa 'ko. Pilipino 'tong sinasalba ko para ma-liberate nga Marawi."

[Translation: All I thought about was this is for the country, for my fellowman. I'm saving a Filipino so that Marawi can be liberated.]

Then there are those who served as the eyes and ears of pilots on the ground – making sure targets are hit with precision.

"Kami yung nagki-clear with the guidance of ground commander, kung clear for delivery ng ammo. So kami po 'yung direct contact ng pilot sa ground," A PAF forward air controller said.

[Translation: We gave clearance with the guidance of the ground commander, if it was clear for the delivery of ammo. So we are are the ones with direct contact with the pilot.]

There were airmen who were part of a team that cleared buildings of explosives before troops could enter to engage the enemy in combat.

Their families were worried sick, knowing their loved ones were putting their lives on the line.

The wife of an airforce personnel said, "Normal sa isang asawa mong sundalo, lagi mong iniisip, pangalawa lang kami, kumbaga, 'yun ang first priority niya talaga."

[Translation: It's normal for the wife of a soldier to think that we are second priority. The job is the first priority.]

The Air Force said operational costs, including fuel and ammunition, reached close to ₱1.5 billion.