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31st MEU provides humanitarian aid for Balabac residents during Exercise Balikatan 2008 in Philippines

28 Feb 2008 | 1st Lt. Jorge Escatell

With exercise Balikatan 2008 (BK ’08) at an end, Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit demonstrated caring efforts and diligent work to provide humanitarian aid that benefited more than 3,500 local residents.

 As the Combat Logistics Element of the 31st MEU, Combat Logistics Battalion 31 service members provided thorough medical assistance and engineering expertise during a community relations project Feb. 28, at Balabac High School and Balabac Elementary School here, in order to continue the efforts of exercise BK ‘08 and strengthen the relationship between the Republic of the Philippines and the U.S. Armed Forces.

 The CLB 31 engineers concentrated on the task at the high school by constructing two classrooms in order to support 483 students, currently in an overcrowded state.

 “We were asked by the local officials if we could build two additional classrooms to help them accommodate the local high school children,” said First Sergeant Ronald L. Garrett said, the First Sergeant for the CLB 31.

 For the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU, success is conducting an operation as smooth as possible and when problems arise, accepting a helping hand from local residents adds to the efficiency of the mission.

 “We have pushed multiple building materials from a centralized point here, but we have had a problem with the roads to the site and our vehicles, but the local officials assisted us in finding alternate routes that are more suitable for the mission,” said Garrett. “Local officials and residents have done a great job in assisting us to ensure we complete the project on time.”

 Along with the engineering project, CLB 31’s medical and dental staff worked to treat patients in the local area.

 According to official military reports, more than 1,300 patients have benefited from the first week of the medical and dental missions.

 Hospital Corpsman 1st class Gerardo Cortado, the lead petty officer in charge of the pharmacy with CLB-31, said his staff had handed out more than 1,800 prescriptions from cough medicine, fever reducing medicine to multivitiams.

 “We not only hand out the medication we also provide them with educational information on how to prevent and treat certain symptoms,” said Cortado, a native from Northern Philippines.

 U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ayessa Toler, the Medical Planner for CLB 31, said the humanitarian assistance operation in Balabac is an experience she will always remember.

 For the service members not actively participating in the medical or dental missions they were fortunate to host community relations activities with the elementary school children.

 Private First Class Kevin Chason, a diesel mechanic and HN Matthew Cabelin, a corpsman both with CLB-31, entertained the kids by participating in various outdoor activities.

 “We played basic games that we learned in our school, such as Green Light-Red Light, Simon Says and a few relay races,” said Cabelin. “I am having a great time being able to visit and give back to my people.”

 Cabelin, a native of Angeles City, PI, would translate the rules to the children while Chason demonstrated.

 “I am having so much fun and really enjoy interacting with the children,” said Chason. “I cannot understand the language completely but their smiles and laughter tell me I am doing something right.”

 The humanitarian operations of Exercise Balikatan 2008 aim to improve the Philippines-U.S. combined planning and interoperability competence for future humanitarian assistance operations. This joint military exercise is the latest step in increasing the relationship between the U.S. and the Republic of the Philippines.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit