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Monday, August 24, 2009

AFP-sponsored MEDCAP in Radapan lays groundwork for community development

Dentists from the 1st Medical Company provide dental care to one of the 800 patients who came to the medical civil action program in Radapan Aug 18. The AFP medical team joined volunteer caregivers in providing medical checks, dental care, medicines, optometry exams as well as massages and haircuts for the residents of Radapan and surrounding barangays.

LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines and Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines, along with regional volunteers, brought health care and dialogue to Radapan and surrounding barangays in Lanao del Norte Tuesday with a larger-than-normal Medical Civil Action Program and an open forum called a pulong-pulong.

Despite pouring rains, more than 800 local men, women and children traveled to Radapan, to talk with their community and receive treatment from AFP and JSOTF-P doctors, nurses, and dentists. In addition, volunteer barbers and massage therapists joined in the event to bring additional care to the attendees.

“The extra care is the result of our inquiry with the civilians,” said 1st Lt. Rommel De Los Santos, the civil military operations officer for the 33rd Infantry Battalion and organizer of the event. “Previous MEDCAPs we’ve held have been limited to medical and dental, but this is responding to their requests for particular services.”

According to a local district supervisor, Hadji Cabina Mamad, the MEDCAP tied in nicely topic with the topic of the pulong-pulong, which was local development.

“This medical activity is most important,” said, Mamad. “We believe good health is one of the factors of development.”

The event was a visible reminder to local residents that humanitarian operations remain at the forefront of the AFP mission. This region has been on the receiving end of a number of AFP-sponsored SALA’AM activities such as construction projects and educational activities.

“This is our continuing mission as far as protecting and helping the people are concerned,” said Brigadier General Rey Ardo, the commander of the 103rd Brigade.

As with most MEDCAPS sponsored by the AFP and JSOTF-P, the local community was instrumental in making this event happen. In addition to AFP and JSOTF-P medics, volunteer nurses and students from the local trade skills school assisted with medical treatment. The medicine was provided jointly by JSOTF-P and the local Rotary Club.

The amount of local participation was particularly significant because more than half of the participants were from the local community, according to De Los Santos, demonstrating a prime example of the local residents working together to help themselves.

U.S. Senator visits JSOTF-P

COL Bill Coultrup, JSOTF-P commander, welcomes U.S. Senator Bill Nelson during his visit to Zamboanga Aug. 17. Senator Nelson visited the Philippines to meet with members of JSOTF-P and consult with local officials on issues of mutual interest as part of a routine trip to the Asia-Pacific region.

Armed Forces of the Philippines troops greet U.S. Senator Bill Nelson at Edwin Andrews Air Force Base during his visit to Zamboanga, Philippines Aug. 17.

Philippine Air Force Brig. Gen. Carlix Donila gives a tour of Edwin Andrews Air Force Base facilities to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson during his visit to Zamboanga, Philippines Aug. 17.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson meets with Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat during his visit Aug. 17.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

JSOTF-P delivers medical supplies to Camp Navarro General Hospital

Col. Walter Cayce, JSOTF-P command surgeon, and Philippine Army Lt. Col. Joy Turla, commanding officer of Camp Navarro General Hospital, inventory 15 boxes of medical supplies after delivery to CNGH by JSOTF-P personnel Aug. 17. These medical supplies were donated by Knightsbridge International. JSOTF-P delivered an additional five boxes to AFP medical personnel on Basilan.

Author Max Boot highlights JSOTF-P efforts in Southern Philippines

Author and journalist Max Boot recently posted an online commentary supporting the decision of the Secretary of Defense to continue the U.S. military's assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Mindanao. At the request of the Philippine government, U.S. forces are here on temporary deployment in a strictly non-combat role to advise and assist the AFP, share information, and to conduct joint civil military operations in accordance with the Visiting Forces Agreement.

U.S. Special Ops in Philippines Leaves Small but Necessary Footprint
Max Boot
Published: August 21, 2009

Bob Gates is right to leave a Joint Special Operations Task Force in place in the Philippines. My colleague Rick Bennet and I visited with JSOTF-P in 2008; you can read about the visit in this Weekly Standard article.

To read Max Boot's full commentary, click here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

JSOTF-P Featured in New York Times

Thom Shanker of the New York Times wrote a piece today about the success that JSOTF-P has had in helping the Armed Forces of the Philippines fight terrorism in Mindanao. The story highlights JSOTF-P's focus on civil-military operations, the close cooperation with other U.S. government development efforts and the need to sustain the progress that has been made.

U.S. Military to Stay in Philippines
By Thom Shanker
Published: August 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has decided to keep an elite 600-troop counterinsurgency operation deployed in the Philippines despite pressure to reassign its members to fulfill urgent needs elsewhere, like in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to Pentagon officials.

To read the full story, visit
New York Times: U.S. Military to Stay in Philippines

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Area Coordination Center and Fire Station Dedicated

JOLO CITY, Philippines -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Joint Task Force Comet and the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines’ Task Force Sulu turned over the Sulu Provincial Area Coordination Center and the Jolo Fire Station to the community of Jolo City Aug. 17.

Hundreds of Joloanos joined Sulu provincial leadership, military commanders, and U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney during ceremonies for both projects, which are the largest construction projects undertaken by JSOTF-P and the AFP in Sulu province. Both will serve Jolo City and neighboring barangays as well.

“The coordination center provides us with a morale boost,” said Fazlur-Rahnan A. Abdulla, Executive Director of the Sulu Provincial ACC. “We wanted it to be a center for peace and development.”

The 702 sq. meter building cost $492,000. It is a unique structure in Sulu because it contains all the functions of the provincial government in one building. This enables all the councils in the Sulu Provincial governor’s chamber to meet in a single location.

“It is a forum where citizens can exercise freedom of speech and work out solutions. It’s a one-stop shop for everybody,” Abdulla said.

According to Task Force Sulu’s engineer, 1st Lt. Gene Bentley, the building was designed specifically for the Sulu capital.

“A two-story building is not typical construction,” Bentley said. “Normally a coordination center consists of four smaller buildings, but this fits everything into one structure.”

“I hope that this building is a sign of continuing partnership and coordination,” Abdulla said. “The military is a great help to us here. Task Force Sulu and Task Force Comet are two of our strong partners in the provincial government.”

At the turn-over of the Jolo Fire Station, emergency response personnel from the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Jolo Emergency Rescue Network accepted the $392,000 million peso structure. The new 701.5 sq meter building has two stories plus a mezzanine level.

“We are very much thankful for our station here,” said Beldazar Saradain, an emergency responder serving with the BFP. “It reflects our desire to serve, and it will also increase our efficiency,” he added.

In addition to the turnover ceremonies, USAID officials from the Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS) program, held a book fair for the teachers and students of Sulu.

Task Force Sulu and Joint Task Force Comet personnel helped move 220,000 books to the site the day before. They also provided security during the book fair so students and teachers could browse through the selection.

“We are very thankful that JSOTF-P and AFP were able to help us out,” said Ina Aquino, Education Specialist for the EQuALLS project. “With all the pallets it would have taken us ten days to set up for the fair.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

AFP, JSOTF-P train Jolo police in IED awareness and response

Lieutenant Lara Bollinger
Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines

JOLO CITY, Philippines— Explosive ordnance disposal technicians and medical personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 3rd Marine Brigade and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines conducted three days of training in Improvised Explosive Device awareness and medical response for 16 Jolo City municipal police officers here August 6-8.

During the training, AFP and JSOTF-P instructors shared information with the police about preventing IED attacks, as well as how to respond in the event of an IED emergency. The classroom portion included 12 hours of EOD and IED response training and 12 hours of medical instruction. “This training is a great opportunity for EOD experts from the AFP and the US to teach the Jolo police these critical skills,” said U.S. Army Capt. Ryan Hartwig, commander of Liaison Coordination Element 1333A.

The instructors from the Philippine Marines and the U.S. Navy covered subjects ranging from IED area cordon and search procedures, physics of explosions, and vehicle searches to medical response, improvised tourniquets and splinting, basic shock management, and treating blast and blunt force trauma injuries. The Jolo Municipal Police chief also taught a class on the laws regarding explosives.

“IED awareness is a critical aspect of police training, said U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician 1st Class Karl Krahn, one of the instructors. The more prepared the Jolo police are for responding to emergencies, the more they will be able to ensure the safety of their community.”

In order to test the students on what they learned, the instructors conducted a final practical exercise consisting of a simulated IED explosion with casualties. Instructors set off colored smoke grenades to simulate smoke from the explosion, and volunteers from the AFP and JSOTF-P posed as injured victims. In addition to providing immediate medical response to the simulated casualties, the police students had to identify a secondary IED that was planted nearby and cordon off the area.

After the simulation, the instructors provided feedback to their students, and then graduated them from the course with certificates of completion.

"The students that we taught here are now the local experts and they will be able to take what we taught them and train the force," Hartwig said.

US Navy EOD experts train Philippine Navy SEAL team

By Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Fletcher M. Gibson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines

DAVAO, Philippines – Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Explosive Ordnance Disposal team conducted hands-on training in explosives handling with a Philippine Navy Special Operations Unit in Davao July 28-30.

During those three days, the men of Philippine Naval Special Operations Unit Seven received classroom instruction on combat lifesaving skills as well as identifying common components of improvised explosive devices and how to counter them. The final day was a live-action exercise where the teams got to put all the classroom training to the test on a simulated “direct action” mission, raiding a building rigged with IEDs.

“We find a lot of IEDs in this area,” said Lt. j.g. Malcolm Morrell, NAVSOU-7’s officer in charge. “It’s very relevant to our training.”

The first day of training covered medical tactics to be used in the field. This “Combat Life Saving” class demonstrated how combat tactics influence medical care and gave the students practice in quick life-saving steps such as tourniquets and injury assessments. The course drew on lessons learned in combat casualty care in the field as well as the instructor’s own personal experiences.

“I’ve been shot twice and blown up once,” said U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Marcus Smith, the medic who taught the course. “The stuff I’m going over here is the stuff my guys used to keep me alive.”

At the end of the medical portion, the NAVSOU team members received portable, individual medical kits containing all the life-saving equipment from their training. Each member received one to carry with him in the field as well as a few extras to be used in ongoing training within the unit.

The second day of training demonstrated common assembly of IEDs with extensive examples of how they are built and how they are triggered. The training will not only help the team members identify IEDs in the field, but will also allow them to recognize signs that a suspect is involved in constructing bombs based on items they may find in his possession.

“If you see a lot of these [materials], you know the guy’s up to something bad,” said U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Petty Officer 1st Class Kyle Dewey, the team leader for JSOTF-P’s EOD Bravo Team.

The three-day course also included instruction on how to build and use their own explosive devices to break down doors or safely detonate found IEDs.

All of the classroom training was put to the final test on the last day when the teams were tasked with a number of increasingly-complicated drills inside a simulated house. Challenged with a variety of trip-wires, pressure plates, and mock land-mines and grenades, each of NAVSOU-7’s two action teams demonstrated their grasp of both urban tactics and safe explosives handling. As the drills became more advanced, participants had to deal with “hostile” small arms fire and simulated injured team members requiring casualty evacuation and Combat Life Saving care. In the final stage, each team set and detonated a live explosive charge to safely destroy the simulated IED they uncovered.

“It really tested the way we act as a team,” Morrell said. “That was the most important lesson.”

“The curriculum is based on an ‘on-foot’ mission statement used by U.S. Navy EOD,” Dewey said, adding that the tests were designed around what could be carried by the individuals. “That’s closest to what they’ll be encountering.”

In addition to the medical kits, Dewey also left the team with copies of the IED recognition training materials to allow NAVSOU-7 to continue training on their own, both keeping their own skills sharp as well as teaching new members who join the team in the future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

AFP, JSOTF-P turn over ambulances, conduct MEDCAPs on Jolo

JOLO, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Joint Task Force Comet and the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines recently turned over three new ambulances to emergency first responders in Sulu Province. The ambulances will greatly improve the ability of Sulu medical professionals to deliver emergency care to the island’s residents.

AFP and JSOTF-P officials turned over the first ambulance to the Parang District Hospital on July 6. The second was delivered to the Panamao District Hospital on August 8, and the third to the Jolo Emergency Rescue Network in Jolo City on August 10. The ambulances are worth about Php 960,000 each.

Following the turnovers in Parang and Panamao, AFP, U.S. and local medical personnel provided free medical treatment to several hundred local residents.

According to Maj. Benjamin Abduhadi, Chief of the Marines’ Civil Relations Service in Sulu, the ambulances represent a significant step forward in medical care for local residents.

“This ambulance is vital for the people of Sulu,” said Abduhadi at the Panamao turnover ceremony. “It will allow all Joloanos equal access to emergency response.”

The recipients of the ambulances expressed their gratitude for the new vehicles.

“We are very happy and thankful for the ambulance and MEDCAP today, and we hope that there will be more MEDCAPs to come and more help to the hospital,” said the Honorable Gafor S. Abdurajak, mayor of Panamao.

In Parang, the ambulance donation was a milestone for the District Hospital there, because until now, the hospital has never had that capability. Dr. Hadja Jubaira Aharuddin Isnain, chief of the hospital, thanked the AFP and JSOTF-P for the ambulance, which will enable the hospital to provide better emergency medical services to the population of Parang.

For one Sulu resident who attended the Jolo Emergency Rescue Network turnover ceremony, the event had special significance. Bong Calleja is an emergency response worker with the Jolo Bureau of Fire Protection. In August 2006, Calleja was shot in the eye by terrorists just 15 meters from the Jolo Fire Station. At the time Jolo did not have a reliable ambulance service, so he was rushed to the Sulu Provincial Hospital in a police car.

While Calleja recovered from his wounds, he said that if there had been a reliable ambulance available at the time, emergency responders would have been able to provide immediate medical response and evaluation.

“This ambulance is a great help to Joloanos and the people of Sulu,” Calleja said.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

International aid groups and AFP discuss humanitarian efforts in Mindanao

Petty Officer 1st Class Fletcher Gibson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs

DAVAO, Philippines -- Representatives from more than a dozen humanitarian aid organizations and civil-military operations experts from the Philippine and United States armed forces met here July 27-29 to discuss how they could work together more effectively together in Mindanao.

At the request of Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, the commander of Eastern Mindanao Command, members of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines worked alongside their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to help facilitate the conference. The general said the goal of the conference was to promote cooperation and understanding between the military and the non-government organizations (NGOs), which will ultimately enhance the effectiveness of their collective efforts while helping prevent misunderstandings.

“More often than not, we didn’t know what the other was doing,” he said. “It’s time to get to know each other.”

Collectively, the attending groups represented some of the largest international humanitarian organizations operating in Mindanao. They included the United Nations’ World Food Program, the Japanese International Corporation Agency, Australia’s overseas aid organization, AusAID, as well as The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

For many of the participants it was the first time they’d met their counterparts in the other aid organizations. As each group discussed its mission, ideas began flowing about how much the groups could accomplish through tighter coordination. “Synergy” was the key word that came out during the discussions.

“We’re not here only about Australian programs in Mindanao, but the broader community,” said Patricia Domingo of AusAID. “We used to keep information to ourselves, but we’ve learned that’s not a good way to do things.”

“We found this forum very useful,” added Alghassim Wurie, the deputy country director of the UN World Food Program Philippines. “We’re forging partnerships that will lead to peace.”

One challenge of the meeting was ensuring the neutrality of the attending groups who depend on that reputation for continuing their works.

“A lot of the people who provide humanitarian aid have to remain neutral or it could be detrimental to their mission,” said U.S. Army Capt. Janette Kautzman, team leader for JSOTF-P’s Civil Affairs Team 735. “They need to meet with both sides of a conflict to paint a better picture.”

Humanitarian aid groups have a lot to gain from working with the AFP, according to General Ferrer. With the AFP’s help, they can better focus their efforts on where they’ll do the most good.

“We can recommend to these agencies where they can put up these projects because it’s the military who knows where these things are needed,” said Ferrer.

Even with the strides that were made during this meeting, it was just the first step of what the participants hope will be a continuing effort.

“This was an eye-opener,” Wurie said. “I hope to see more of these.”

In addition to AFP and JSOTF-P civil-military planners, the attending organizations were AusAID, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, JICA, Oblates of Mary Immaculate Inter-Religious Dialogue, the Mindanao Economic Development Council, the Office of the Presidential Advisor for the Peace Process, the Philippine Department of Agriculture, the UN World Food Program, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Department of Security Services and USAID.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Irelley school rises from the ashes with AFP, JSOTF-P help

By Maj. John Hutcheson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs

The Armed Forces of the Philippines recently completed construction of a new Irelley School in Sumisip, Basilan after the Abu Sayyaf Group burned down the previous school in late March. The reconstruction was a joint effort between the AFP’s National Development Support Command, the Philippine Navy’s Mobile Construction Battalion 1 and JSOTF-P. The AFP turned to the school over to local officials July. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Robin Ressler/Released)

SUMISIP, Basilan, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in partnership with the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, brought new hope the village of Sumisip on the island of Basilan when it turned over a new school building July 29 in front of hundreds of students, parents, teachers and local officials.

The Irelley school was one of two schools burned to the ground by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in late March, reportedly in retaliation for the town’s past cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The commander of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command, Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino Brig. Gen Rustico Guerrero, 1st Marine Brigade commander attended the ceremony, both praising the efforts of the local community to support the Marines on Basilan in creating a safer and more secure environment.

The reconstruction was a joint effort between the AFP’s National Development Support Command, the Philippine Navy’s Mobile Construction Battalion 1 and JSOTF-P. The three organizations worked together to assess the proposed project and develop plans, with JSOTF-P providing the funding and materials to back the AFP’s construction efforts.

As the school’s construction neared completion, the United States Agency for International Development joined the effort, donating desks and textbooks to the school and ensuring the students and teachers would have the tools they needed to succeed. AFP and JSOTF-P service members also distributed school supplies and book bags to the kids at the ceremony.

The mayor of Sumisip, Habir Al Sarul was also on hand for the symbolic turnover. He highlighted the community partnership with the Philippine Marines that made the school construction possible and implored the local citizens to continue supporting the Marines in order to put an end to the violence that has plagued Basilan.

Even as the Irelley school was turned over, the AFP continues construction on the Sitio Oval school in Sumisip, which was also burned down by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines distribute backpacks and school supplies to children July 29 at the turnover ceremony for the new Irelley School in Sumisip, Basilan. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Robin Ressler/Released)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

JSOTF-P personnel join NBA, NCAA coaches for youth basketball clinic

By Lieutenant Lara Bollinger
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kenneth Spry, from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, coaches participants of youth groups from local high school basketball teams at a basketball clinic in Zamboanga City July 29. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class William H. Ramsey/Released)

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines -- Three renowned U.S. basketball coaches and three service members from the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines came together with 200 local youths for a unique basketball clinic at the city coliseum in Zamboanga July 29.

Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Miami Heat, David Fizdale, Miami Heat assistant coach, and Sue Wicks, assistant coach of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York, and a former WNBA player were in town as part of an outreach program called SportsUnited, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs..

JSOTF-P participants were Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kenneth Spry, and Marine Lance Cpls. Angel Jimenez and Loren Miller.

“The camp was a great experience for the kids. Having the NBA come out and teach the fundamentals of the game and give advice on how to improve their playing skills will definitely have an impact on their development,” Spry said.

This goal of the basketball clinic and SportsUnited as a whole is to use sports to bridge cultural gaps and promote understanding across regions, races and religions. Participants in the Zamboanga clinic included Christians and Muslims representing men’s and women’s basketball teams from public and private high schools and colleges.

The clinic was sponsored jointly in partnership with the Office of Zamboanga Congresswoman Beng Climaco, and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kenneth Spry and Marine Lance Cpls. Angel Jimenez and Loren Miller, from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, assisted in coaching over 200 youth from local high school and college basketball teams in Zamboanga City July 29. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class William H. Ramsey/Released)