Dignitaries attend Balikatan 2011 opening ceremony|
By Lance Cpl. Anthony Ward Jr.
Balikatan is an annual AFP- and U.S.-sponsored joint exercise celebrating its 27th iteration since inception in 1981. Distinguished visitors and representatives from various media outlets attended the ceremony to honor the event.
Among those distinguished visitors were Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski and Undersecretary Erlinda F. Basilio, the acting secretary of foreign affairs for the department of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Philippines.
"The Balikatan exercise is vital to maintain the readiness and interoperability of the U.S. military and the Armed Forces of the Philippines," said Wiercinski, the U.S. exercise director for Balikatan.
Filipino and American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines stood together -- Balikatan or shoulder to shoulder -- during the ceremony.
A testament to this shoulder to shoulder mentality was the color guard, which consisted of a U.S. Soldier, two AFP servicemembers and a U.S. Marine.
Both countries have suffered devastating natural disasters in recent years so understanding support is needed in times of calamity is key, said Thomas, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines.
"The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us why Balikatan is so important. It is this kind of planning that enables our forces to be effective and respond to a natural disaster and other crises that threaten public health and safety," said Thomas.
Once again the armed forces from both nations will come together to exchange knowledge and benefit the many communities of the Philippines with healthcare and improving the quality of life, said Rear Adm. Victor Emmanuel C. Martir, the exercise director for the Philippines.
"To all participants our U.S. counterparts, foreign observers, government officials both from national and global, and other guests. I welcome and thank you for coming,"
said Martir. "We further know that this joint RP/U.S. military will go smoothly and successfully."
Martir said Balikatan helps all participants.
"It is our earnest desire that this year's exercise will bring out the best in both parties," said Martir. "That it will not only be beneficial to us and our own troops, as well as their troops, that it will be for the best interest of the local communities that we have selected to undertake civil assistance programs."
"Our partnership here in Balikatan will surely be a memorable one as we commit ourselves in the interest of peace, stability and development," he added.