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31st MEU Marines, Australian Soldiers work to shelter education

15 Apr 2008 | Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella

Though food, cloths and shelter are known as the three essentials, education is a top priority. Killing two birds with one stone is always better, so when building a school and replacing the roof on another provides the shelter needed to harbor long lasting education, there are few operations more important.

At the request of the government of Timor-Leste, the Marines and sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based out of Okinawa, Japan, combined their engineering skills with soldiers from the Australian Defence Force to conduct an Engineering Civic Assistance Project, here, from April 15-18. 

The project was conducted in order to maintain the MEU’s humanitarian assistance readiness and continue the ongoing commitment to the security and stability of local communities, here, and in the entire South East Asia region.

The ENCAP allowed the Marines and sailors along with the Australian soldiers the opportunity to lend a helping hand and construct a new two-room primary school and repair the roof on another nearby schoolhouse which was severely damaged in a storm last year.

According to Constancio Zogose, the Fatulia village chief, the village is using temporary facilities as a school and is very grateful to the Marines and sailors for coming out and repairing their school.

“We had been waiting to get our school repair proposal answered for some time now,” said Zogose. “When the President of Timor-Leste (Jose Ramos-Horta) found out about our situation, he promised something would be done, and so here we are. It is a dream come true.”

Zogose said that the fact that the President of Timor-Leste kept his promise is a real blessing as the country is experiencing ongoing civil unrest, and strives for restructuring and rebuilding.

“It really means a lot to me that the President kept his word and promised our little village would receive help, this is an answer to our prayers.”

The entire engineering project, including the tin for the roofs, concrete for the ground, and lumber for the structure, cost approximately $40,000, according to 2nd Lt. Brian Woodall, the CLB 31 engineering platoon commander, 31st MEU. The process of construction to build the school was “Balloon Framing,” a style of building that is rarely used in the states.

“’Balloon Framing’ is used when weather may be a factor in the building process of your structure,” said Woodall, a native of Norwood, N.C. “Right after the foundation is made your frames go up to support the roof so the weather will not hinder the framing construction below.”

The “Balloon Framing” technique is rarely used in the states because the length of lumber needed to support the roof, during the early stages of the building process, is costly, but for the project in Timor-Leste it was necessary, added Woodall.

Many Marines and sailors had the chance to help a community in need while fulfilling themselves with happiness and gratitude. For Lance Cpl. Angel Hernandez, a generator operator with CLB-31, it’s a great feeling to make someone’s life a little better.

“It’s a great feeling to know deep inside, I actually helped someone and that somebody else is really benefiting from the work we do,” said Hernandez, a Houston native. “It’s an exciting feeling to see the children’s faces as they watch us work.”

For other Marines another great aspect is being able to help a community of new faces.

“I feel awesome being able to come here and give these children a school,” said Lance Cpl. Mitchell Colwell, a landing support specialist with CLB-31. “I’ll probably never see these children again, but I know deep down inside I made an impact.”

To make the operation a success, it takes more than combat engineers to complete the task. For many Marines like Colwell, the ENCAP gives the opportunity to work out of their usual setting.

“As a landing specialist, I mostly load and unload helicopters, but now I get to help in a different way,” said Colwell, a native of Riverside, Calif.

For Hernandez, the ENCAP has taught him something he will never forget.

“Never take the things you have for granted,” said Hernandez. “There are people who have it rougher than you, and would love to have the things you have.”

While humanitarian and disaster relief efforts are some of the MEU’s capabilities, its Marines and sailors are ready to rise to the challenge and accomplish the mission and are poised to continue promoting good health and friendships across the Asia-Pacific region.     

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit