TERNATE, CAVITE, Philippines --
For the children and teachers of a local community here, everlasting education and growth are within reach once again.
Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in medical, dental and engineering civil assistance programs at Maragondon National High School here, Feb. 18 through March 1. The civil assistance programs were conducted during Exercise Balikatan 2008, in order to provide a boost to the quality of life of the Philippine citizens, here.
The week-long program gave MEU service members the opportunity to volunteer and provide medical and dental examinations along with the distribution of essential medicine. Philippine and U.S. dental professionals aided the local population by providing teeth cleaning and removal of teeth. The project also gave service members the opportunity to refurbish the high school, which includes primary and secondary grade levels.
“Its all about helping out the people,” said Hospital corpsman 3rd class Robert De Dios, a corpsman with the MEU’s Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB 31). “Some of these people are in need of care, and it feels great to just provide for them.”
For De Dios, a native of Los Angeles, showing the people of the Philippines that the Marines and Sailors want to help and develop a genuine relationship is a very rewarding feeling.
“The appreciation and gratitude these people have for what we are doing also makes it worth while,” said De Dios. “They bring us their cultural food and drinks, just to say thank you.”
Side by side, the 31st MEU Marines and Sailors along with service members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines worked together to clean up and rebuild a portion of the school that had suffered from significant fire damage.
“Our main objective is to set up partition walls and provide a new roof for the classrooms,” said 2nd Lt. Brian Woodall, the Engineering Platoon Commander with CLB 31.
According to Woodall, a native of Norwood N.C., a fire that occurred nearly a year ago destroyed the roof of four classrooms and the Marines and Sailors wanted to help give the children their classroom back.
“I think this is they greatest gift for the community, because it’s a gift that keeps on giving,” said Woodall. “The children now and in the future will be able to enjoy a great learning environment.”
Marines are known for their efficiency in combat and their exceptional operational aptitude, but for the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU, it is important to demonstrate the humanitarian capabilities of the American Armed Forces.
“Projects like this help people realize we do not only destroy things,” explained Lance Corporal Robert Johnson, a Motor Transportation Operator with the CLB 31. “We genuinely care and want to help the children here.”
Another great aspect in planning and coordinating civil assistance programs and in helping people is the opportunity to do it again.
“Successfully completing a task like this really opens doors for the future,” added Johnson, a native of Sheridan, Ill. “The people will welcome us back for similar projects and training.”
Throughout the weeklong project, amidst the hundreds of local Filipinos who gathered to pitch in, Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, Commanding General of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, along with the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, and Admiral Timothy Keating, the U.S. Pacific Command Commander, visited to see what the Marines and Sailors were contributing and how the project was unfolding.
The medical, dental, and engineering civil affairs project was just a slice of what exercise Balikatan ’08 encompassed. Along with humanitarian aid, the MEU conducted bilateral training with the Armed forces of the Philippines across the country to include conducting live-fire drills, urban training exercises and patrolling tactics.
Exercise Balikatan ’08 focuses on the development and sustainment of the strong relationship between the U.S. and Republic of the Philippines. The 31st MEU continues to accomplish training missions and provide aid to countries accepting friendship and community relations in the Asia-Pacific region.