Building Education from the ground up

23 Oct 2008 | Cpl. Jason Spinella

The clouds opened up letting the sun shine down on the quiet village of Bagong Barrio, a farming community where an overcrowded school is getting a much needed classroom and a face lift, Oct. 5-24, as part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2009.

Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit worked side by side with Philippine Marines and local residents to build a new school building as well as renovate some existing classrooms.

The task was tackled by Philippine Marines with Headquarters Battalion and Engineering Service Support Battalion from Fort Bonafacio as well as Marines and sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU. The project required more than 150 man hours and more than $60,000 worth of concrete and steel. The uniqueness of the building's design was not so much the combination of rebar and concrete, but the absence of wood.

The entire school complex supports approximately 130 students on a daily basis. The new 56 square meter classroom will support 30 students, easing the overpopulated stress of the current classrooms.

“This is my fifth school project to lead with the MEU, and the first time for me to build a school of only steel and concrete -- a unique design accommodating the environment of southeast Asia,” said 1st Lieutenant Brian Woodall, the engineer platoon commander with CLB-31. “The combination of concrete and steel really hold up against the humid, rainy environment, and with the chance of (nature disasters), it is much safer than a wooden structure.”

Even though this may be the fifth time to conduct this kind of mission, for the Marines with CLB-31’s engineer platoon the feeling of joy never seems to dwindle.

“Out of all the projects I have been, this is my favorite because of the interaction between the villagers, Philippine and U.S.  Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Thomas Fisher, a bulk fuel specialist with engineers platoon. “I feel like we are a part of the community.”

According to Fisher, a Caledonia,  N.Y. native, the local population cooked breakfast and dinner for the Marines and sailors, in appreciation for their hard work and professionalism. Along with the preparation of food, the local nationals lent a helping hand now and again with moving sand or filling the walls with concrete.

In addition, the residents were vocal about their appreciation of the Marines.

“We are very pleased with the work of the Marines and want them to know without them working so closely with our armed forces, this would not be possible,” said Crisanlida Bautista, the wife of the village chief.

“We needed this school building because of the over crowded classroom problem, and the Marines made it happen,” said Bautista, a Guimba native. “I would like to say thank you to the Marines.”

The school project was one of several engineering projects conducted in support of this year's  Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercise. These are annual bilateral training exercises  conducted between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military, which enhance military interoperability and improve communities through humanitarian assistance and civil action projects. The exercises are currently taking place from Oct. 15-27.

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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit