PATTAYA, Kingdom of Thailand --
For the past two weeks in Thailand they’ve served as rifleman, machine gunners and docs, but entering the Pattaya Orphanage and Pattaya Deaf School they are celebrities.
For three hours, orphan and deaf children took a break from their normal routine to spend time talking, laughing, coloring and playing with approximately ten Marines and Sailors from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“Today we’re here to interact with the children in the orphanage and Pattaya Deaf School,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Hamilton, the chaplain of the 31st MEU. “It’s going great. At first our folks were a little bit standoffish, but as soon as the kids started grabbing them at the knees they warmed up, now everyone is having a great time.”
The Marines and Sailors present volunteered their time during a short liberty period after the successful completion of exercise Cobra Gold 2012.
“We all came here because we wanted to give our time to the community, so they can see that we care about them,” said Lance Cpl. Louis Aguiar, motor transportation operator, Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/4, 31st MEU. “I believe they care about us too, because they have not stopped smiling since we got here.”
The Marines and Sailors also left lasting impressions on the staff of the orphanage, impressing them with their eagerness to help.
“The fact that the Marines have chosen to give up their time on a day off says a lot about them. They have an open heart and a willingness to share,” said Anita F. Laurila, a volunteer at the orphanage. “The interaction between the Marines and children was just amazing in terms of how warm they were to the kids, and the children returned that affection.”
Although the Marines and Sailors set out to brighten the children’s day with their visit, many found joy of their own in giving.
“The Marines get a lot out of these events; they get to feel, for just a minute, like they might be back home with their families,” said Hamilton. “Another thing they understand from being here, and probably the most significant thing, is what life is like through another person’s eyes.”
As the event ended and the Marines boarded the busses, all present were thankful for the time spent together. The Marine and Sailor volunteers were proud of their deeds, the children were thrilled with a day of fun, and the orphanage staff were grateful for the assistance.
“I can’t say enough good things about the Marines here, it’s so impressive to see them here and watch them interact with the children,” said Laurila. “It’s great to know there are Marines that care so much about the children. I would love to have them come back here next year and do this again.”
Cobra Gold 2012 demonstrates the resolve of the U.S. and participating nations to increase interoperability and promote security and peace throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.