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31st MEU places high priority on community relations during Balikatan 2009

20 Apr 2009 | Cpl. Jason Spinella

Republic of the Philippines Armed Forces personnel, along with Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, are poised to launch multiple community relations projects across Central and Southern Luzon, in the Republic of the Philippines, providing crucial items to Filipinos throughout the region, April 21.

The projects scheduled will take place at schools near Clark Air Base, Subic Bay and Capas Tarlac (Crow Valley) as well as in the Masbate region in support of Balikatan 2009. The efforts included in these projects will focus on the delivery of clothing for all ages, school backpacks, notebooks, and other essential school supplies.  One school is even scheduled to receive a beautification makeover in the form of a fresh coat of paint applied by AFP and U.S. Forces.  

According to Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Schoffstall, 31st MEU religious program specialist, critical planning and site surveys are conducted with local community leaders to ensure the projects impact as many people as possible in areas most in need of assistance.

"We plan on providing services and supplies to approximately 3,000 Filipino people throughout the region and hope to have a positive impact in those communities during BK ’09,” said Schoffstall, a Triangle, Va. native. The total cost including the school and sports equipment, as well as paint for the painting efforts is around $5,000, but I think that is a small price to pay for the impact made on the region.”

 “Handing out the crayons and pencils feels good, because you know the supplies are going to make these children’s lives better, but playing games with the kids and learning about each other really bridges that gap and brings all of us together,” said the 21-year-old Triangle, Va native.

Along with the 3,000 Philippine Nationals hoped to be impacted by the ComRel efforts, a few hundred service members are slated to participate and have their lives changed as well.

“It’s a great way for service members to volunteer their services, and break away from the normal training routine and make a difference by building relations between the two nations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ray Bailey, 31st MEU chaplain.

Bailey reiterated that the money and tangible supplies is a great tool to promote positive relations in the region between U.S. Armed Forces and the people of the Philippines, but the personal interaction between Marines and sailors and local children on the sites will be priceless.

“Not only are we distributing supplies, we are developing long-term friendships and a solid foundation for future ComRels with the local communities,” said Bailey.

Balikatan is an annual combined joint bilateral training evolution involving Republic of the Philippines and U.S. personnel focused on ensuring humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts are responsive, effective and efficient.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit