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Lance Cpl. Christopher Heatherington, combat engineer with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and a native of Fairbury, Ill., pushes the top of a concrete septic tank into place during the engineering civil affairs project at the Tagburos Elementary School here, Oct. 16. The ENCAP construction sites took under two weeks, finishing with two closing ceremonies and ribbon cuttings. The ENCAPs is one of multiple humanitarian civil affairs projects conducted by the 31st MEU throughout the island of Palawan during the Amphibious Landing Exercise in the Philippines. PHIBLEX, now in its 29th iteration, is an annually-scheduled exercise between the U.S. and Philippine forces, aimed at strengthening military-to-military interoperability and bilateral relationships.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

31st MEU completes two weeks of construction for a lifetime of difference

16 Oct 2012 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

After nearly two weeks of continuous work, the joint construction effort led by Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit finished two engineering capability projects at two Filipino elementary schools here, Oct. 16.

The ENCAP projects are part of the 31st MEU's annual Philippine Bilateral Amphibious Landing Exercise, the bilateral training evolution between U.S. and Filipino military forces which includes multiple humanitarian civil affairs projects in the province of Palawan. In a joint effort with the 31st MEU, Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 and their Philippine military counterparts accomplished their mission and provided much-needed assistance to the locals.

On the grounds of the Macarascas and Tagburos elementary schools, closing ceremonies were held to mark the end of the ENCAPS. Ribbon-cutting events took place before the principals formally thanked all participants for their efforts.

"For them to come and do these things without expecting anything in return speaks volumes of the U.S.'s generosity," said Vicki Aquino, principal of the Macarascas Elementary School. "It is a great privilege and honor to be chosen as one of the schools, and the children recognize that too."

At the Macarascas site, a roofed seating area was constructed and joined to the front of the school's outdoor pavilion. At Tagburos, an underground, concrete septic tank was built next to a pre-existing one with the addition of a leech field system (waste and fertilization runoff).

Being in a tropical climate made work conditions challenging throughout the process. The possibility of dehydration from the constant heat of the day was forever present, and frequent rain threatened the integrity of the concrete.

"Even through the numerous setbacks, they all pulled through by working as a team ," said 1stLt. Tuan Pham, engineer platoon commander with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU and a native of Sterling Heights, Mich. "Each side provided a different skill set when it came to the overall project, and combining all of those into one course of action ensured the construction was completed the best it could be done."

The differing skill sets proved beneficial for the task at hand, but also proved to be a unique learning opportunity for both sides of the language barrier.

"When we do things differently from each other, we take the strong parts of each plan and make a better one," said Philippine Marine Cpl. Raemond Bulan, gunner with the Special Operations platoon, Marine Battalion Landing Team 12, 3rd Marine Brigade. "We can incorporate these lessons in future operations, taking these U.S. techniques with us and spreading them along."

With the ENCAPs completed, the engineers have finished their time on the island, but not without leaving a permanent mark on the schools and the children they have helped. Their uniforms may be dirty and their muscles may be sore, but the swarm of grateful boys and girls served as a confirmation of the engineers' job well done.

PHIBLEX, now in its 29th iteration, is an annually-scheduled bilateral exercise between the U.S. and Philippine forces, aimed at increasing interoperability and strengthening a long standing relationship. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit