OLONGOPO CITY, Republic of the Philippines (May 3, 2009) – --
As one Marine entered the schoolyard during a recent community relations project conducted at Banicain Elementary School on May 29 something seemed familiar. It started out as a simple volunteer event, ordinary and not much different from similar projects conducted during Balikatan 2009 – paint a school building and play games with local children for a few hours, however, the day turned out to be anything but ordinary for that Marine.
As Lance Cpl. Frances Dockendorff was taking in her surroundings and trying to put together an unusual feeling of déjà-vu, one of the school’s teachers stepped out of the crowd to greet her. The teacher, Emelita Antibo, turned out to be Dockendorff’s aunt, one she hadn’t seen for more than 10 years. Both members of the family were taken back by the surprise situation.
“I was so surprised to see her, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Antibo, an Olongapo native. “I was supposed to give the opening remarks and a greeting to the Marines for coming here and painting the school for us, but I couldn’t get on stage and speak after that. I was just overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions.”
Dockendorff was a bit short of breath as well. “I couldn’t believe it, at first she looked familiar, but I thought to myself, what were the chances,” said Dockendorff, also an Olongapo native. “I just called her Aunt Antibo and it all clicked. It was very special.”
For Dockendorff, being a Marine and volunteering to help beautify the place where her aunt works was one of the greatest aspects of the whole experience. Dockendorff felt very special being able to have this experience, knowing this chance reunion was a once in a lifetime coincidence.
“It was great to see how proud they were of me after all these years, I felt like a celebrity walking around the school yard after that,” said Dockendorff.
Ordinarily, community relations projects benefit local citizens and Marines however, this particular event provided Dockendorff more than she could ever hope for.
“My Aunt Antibo is one of the last family members I hadn’t seen for a long time, mainly due to her busy teaching schedule, so this was great trip. I never would have thought it would have been a military deployment that would have allowed a ten year reunion to be possible with my relatives in my home country.” Dockendorff said.
According to migrationsource.org, approximately 65,000 foreign born non-U.S. and naturalized citizens currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. This portion makes up about 5 percent of all active duty personnel, with most of those service members hailing from Mexico and the Philippines.