Balikatan to team U.S. Soldiers with Filipino troops|
By Lance Cpl. Abigail Brown
The focus of Balikatan 2011 is combined training with the armed forces of the Philippines to better prepare for humanitarian relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.
Philippine and U.S. service members will conduct humanitarian assistance projects in communities in Central and Southern Luzon. Military medical personnel will offer free medical, dental and veterinary care, and military engineers will construct and repair schools and other infrastructure in communities in need of assistance.
Soldiers from the United States and Republic of the Philippines are teaming up to add new classrooms to five elementary schools in Zambales Province during the exercise.
The 2011 Balikatan exercise is the 27th in a series of combined, joint efforts between the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines of both the Philippines and United States. The goal of these exercises is to maintain military readiness through training and relationship-building between the two countries.
"Balikatan is to share ideas and learn from each other," said 2nd Lt. Arthur Gabasa, an officer assigned to the 355th Aviation Wing of the Philippine Air Force and the officer in charge at the Pundakit worksite. "The way we accomplish that here is working hard together, which strengthens our relationship."
Service members from both countries have been put into teams at each construction site so they can see how each operate, said Spc. Dean McLaughlin, a carpentry and masonry engineer assigned to 2nd Platoon, 643rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade.
"We had no problems coming together with the (AFP) engineers and it's been fantastic to learn some of their ways to build with different tools than we use," said McLaughlin.
As the projects have proceeded, the U.S. Soldiers are not the only ones experiencing new things.
"We have been able to learn some different techniques to construct stucco and masonry," said Gabasa. He also described the efforts of both militaries to engage the local communities. "We have been having friendship basketball games with the community so we can become closer to the people."
It is not just the servicemembers who have noticed the cohesion that has been built between the two countries.
"The militaries have a good relationship," said Sebastian. "Their integration on this project has been excellent and they are very compatible."
For the U.S. Soldiers, it's also an opportunity to learn about another culture.
"We are so thankful to the local government for allowing us to be part of the community and work alongside the (AFP)," said McLaughlin.
As both school and military officials pushed a ceremonial shovel into the dirt to mark the beginning of the construction at Angel C. Manglicmot Memorial School March 11, students, families and servicemembers watched and interacted with each other. Local families offered fresh fruit. Children smiled as basketballs were handed out by Filipino and American soldiers.
Handshakes and waves were exchanged between locals and soldiers, each thanking the other for their hospitality, said McLaughlin.
"This is an amazing opportunity that not many people will get a chance to experience," he said.
The project at Taposo Elementary School offers a cross-training experience between the two militaries that will enhance future construction projects.
"We haven't done a lot of construction with concrete, so this is a great opportunity for us to learn the techniques of the Philippine Army," said 1st. Lt Brandy Kinstle, 3rd Platoon Leader, 643rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, which is based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
While the Filipino servicemembers show their U.S. counterparts how they use concrete in their construction, they will also receive instruction on how to use the U.S. equipment, said Kinstle.
"We will be learning how to use the tools the U.S. Soldiers brought with them since it will make the project easier," said 1st Lt. Reynald Monredondo, a Filipino officer assigned to the 54th Engineer Brigade and the officer in charge of the Taposo site.
Servicemembers from both countries quickly bonded as they prepped the site for the beginning of construction. Echoing the sentiment of the phrase "Balikatan," Pvt. Juncky Hidalgo, an infantryman assigned to the Philippine Army's 24th Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division said, "We will build a good friendship while building together."
"The community is very cooperative and happy," Edangal said. "We're very excited to see what the armies do since they are working so fast together."