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Saturday, November 28, 2009

JSOTF-P Civil Affairs Company Earn AFP Medals

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Public Affairs

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Sixteen members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) Civil Affairs Company received medals from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in ceremonies held in Manila and in Zamboanga City Nov. 23.

“I am so proud of these Soldiers for their outstanding efforts supporting the AFP with development projects and training,” said Col. Bill Coultrup, commander of JSOTF-P. “They have been working non-stop to assist the AFP making a difference in the community, and contributing to peace and development in Mindanao.”

The servicemembers are from the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), headquartered in Fort Bragg, NC, have been working in central Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago for the last nine months.

During this time, civil affairs teams have assisted the AFP in turning over 41 new schools, local government buildings, water wells, roads and other infrastructure projects in addition to helping repair and renovate dozens of others.

The AFP held the Zamboanga ceremony at the parade field located near WESTMINCOM headquarters. The awards included the AFP’s Civil Action Medal, Military Commendation Medal, and the Military Merit Medal. Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, commander WESTMINCOM, gave the keynote address and pinned the awards on each recipient.

“Today is a special occasion as we give due recognition to our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Armed Forces who excelled in their specialties,” said Dolorfino. “These women and men performed exceptionally well in their assignments.”

The teams also completed 68 medical and dental civic action programs, providing free medical and dental care to thousands of Filipinos. Additionally, JSOTF-P partnered with AFP, local governments, and other organizations conducting 164 community relations events.

In a separate ceremony in Manila that day, JSOTF-P Civil Affairs Soldiers received six medals by AFP Lt. Gen. Nestor Z. Ochoa, Commander of the National Development Support Command. Recently appointed to the position, Ochoa said development is the last phase in the campaign against insurgents. He commended the team for their assistance in furthering the mission of his command.

Major Winston M. Marbella, Civil Affairs Commander, who was presented the AFP Civic Action Medal, Military Merit Medal, and Gawad sa Kaunlaran Medal remarked, “I accept these awards on behalf of all the hardworking JSOTF-P and US Civil Affairs Soldiers in Mindanao. It’s a significant honor to be recognized by our host nation; a testament to Civil Affairs effectiveness in the irregular warfare environment. Maraming salamat po (thank you very much).”

A new civil affairs company from the same battalion has arrived in the southern Philippines and will continue the work of the previous company.

“I am honored to be a member of Army civil affairs. We established great partnerships in the southern Philippines and it was wonderful working with the Filipino people,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joshua DuBois, a member CAT 732.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

AFP and JSOTF-P Teams Treat Hundreds of Patients at MEDCAP

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Public Affairs

TAWI TAWI, Philippines – More than 400 patients were given free medical care through the cooperative efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) who teamed up to perform a Medical Action Project (MEDCAP) in the Languyan municipality Nov. 21.

“The MEDCAP is a great opportunity for us to help people here,” said AFP Marine Lt. Col. Jonas Lumawag, commander, Marine Battalion Landing Team-Two. “This will contribute to peace, progress and development for not just Languyan, but for other areas as well.”

A first in the area, the MEDCAP provided patients with much-needed services, including 73 dental extractions, 21 circumcisions, and four patients received wheelchairs. JSOTF-P’s chaplain team delivered 14 boxes of clothing and books, donated from U.S. charities and churches.

AFP’s Naval Task Force 62 and JSOTF-P’s Civic Action Team (CAT) 731, 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) (headquartered in Fort Bragg, NC) planned the event.

The task forces brought together many assets to conduct the MEDCAP. A dentist from Western Mindanao Command provided assistance, as well as volunteers from the Tawi Tawi Integrated Provincial Health Office and Local Government Units.

“The AFP really spearheaded us coming Languyan. They did a great job putting this together. We are really just here to support them,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeb Taylor, the CAT 731team sergeant.

The event took place at the Languyan municipal hospital, where hospital staff assisted patients and helped distribute prescriptions, toiletry and school supplies. JSOTF-P also donated prescription medications, and kept the children busy with games and sporting events while waiting for services.

As medical care is limited in Languyan, JSOTF-P made copies of 10 handbooks, titled, “Where there is no doctor, a village health care handbook.” The book contains hundreds of home remedies for people who may not have access to formalized health care.

“We work so well with the JSOTF-P teams and are really looking forward to more of these partnerships,” said Lumawag.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

AFP Medical Staff and JSOTF-P Teach Mental Health Classes

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Public Affairs

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Members of the Camp Navarro General Hospital and the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) Chaplain team taught more than 70 care providers crisis intervention management techniques at the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) Nov. 16-18.

The classes focused on the hidden scars of the battlefield, the psychological wounds, which affect many members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Participants included hospital staff, volunteer Red Cross workers, AFP Soldiers and Marine wives whose husbands are engaged in combat operations.

“Some of our deepest wounds of war are in our hearts, our souls and our minds. We must find effective treatments for these wounds. We may not be wounded in violence, but wounded inside,” said Col. Jose Johriel M. Cenabre, chief of staff for WESTMINCOM.The class was taught jointly by the Camp Navarro General Hospital Psychologist Lolina Necesario Bajin and JSOTF-P Chaplain Assistant Rose Gould.

A reservist in the U.S. Air Force, Gould brought more than 20 years of experience to the class. She has experience working with trauma victims in a military environment, as well as her career helping people deal with the impact of humanitarian crises, critical incidents, and war zones.

Seminars focused on several areas aspects of combat stress from psychological first aid for man-made disasters to family crisis intervention. One seminar focused on how to explain to a child the appearance of their parents after being wounded in battlefield.

The intent of the class was to train select members who will then go back to their respective units and teach others. All participants received their own packet with all the training materials, including copies of the lectures, videos and handouts.

This is the first time JSOTF-P and the hospital staff have partnered for this type of training. In the future, the team hopes to have more seminars to help those who provide care for others.

At times the class conversations became quite emotional. Many of the participants expressed their appreciation for the seminar and the help it has provided for them.

“We can now take what we have learned and conduct our own training at WESTMINCOM for all those who were unable to attend,” said Bajin. “This training is so important because there is so much happening here in terms of disasters, armed conflict and man-made incidents and we have to know how to effectively respond.”

At the conclusion of the three-day course, participants received graduation certificates and an increased understanding and best practices on how to effectively treat the psychological effects of war.

“It’s easy to identify and appreciate the sacrifice Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airman when they bear visible physical injury from the execution of their duty,” said Lt. Col David Smith, the JSOTF-P chief of staff.

“However, it is much more difficult to identify mental injuries. The need to provide care to people with these types of problems is very real,” he said.

At the request of the Philippine government, JSOTF-P partners with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a variety of subject matter exchanges, humanitarian missions and construction projects in the southern Philippines.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

PNP and JSOTF-P Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams Teach More Than 100 First Responders

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Public Affairs

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines – Drawing upon years of real-life experience working with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), members from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) trained more than 100 first responders in the Zamboanga del Norte province Nov. 9-12.

Members assigned to JSOTF-P from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit 5 (MU-5) assisted officers from the Regional Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Detection Unit 9 (REODDU9) teaching all aspects of IED awareness, including detection, response and the parts of an IED.

“This is the first time I have seen these IEDs and it is very good to learn about them. If we encounter these IEDs in the future, now we will know what to do. The coordination that I see between JSOTF-P and the PNP is very beneficial to all of us,” said Norman Paul Q. Namoc, a firefighter from Dipolog City.Participants came from several organizations including other PNP units, the Provincial Bureau of Fire Protection, the Crime Laboratory Service and the Provincial Health Department of Zamboanga del Norte.

Many of the class participants may be first on scene to investigate a suspected IED. This makes this type of hands-on training imperative, for it could save thousands of lives.

“Presently, IEDs are the number one weapon of choice for terrorists throughout the world. It is our job to develop our knowledge and capabilities, and it is the first responders who must know exactly how to react if they come across these devices,” said Lt. Erik Spalding, the JSOTF-P EOD Task Unit officer-in-charge.

The first day of the seminar began with a basic introduction regarding IEDs, what types exist, how they are activated and what to do if the attendees suspect they have encountered one.

“It is so important to train our first responders if they encounter an IED so that they can effectively respond. And, it’s important they know what we do so we can do our job without any interference and be able to save people who don’t know the affects of an IED,” said Jonathan A. Nodado, a police officer from REODDU9.

“Our hope is that the students will go back to their units with an increased understanding of what we do and will share that knowledge with others who were unable to attend,” he said.

The EOD teams from the PNP and JSOTF-P took turns teaching the class and brought several types of explosives, switches, and initiators with them, familiarizing the students with all aspects of bomb construction. The instructors also covered the parts of an IED, so students could see how easy it is for lawless groups to make this type of weapon.

Teams also shared their experiences working with live ordnance and the proper procedures to follow when an IED is found. They also underlined the dangers and results when teams have failed to respond properly.

The following day, students applied the skills learned in the classroom by participating in training exercises. In one drill, students broke into ten-man teams and were set on foot patrols with mock IEDs placed throughout the police unit headquarters.

Students also learned how to work with the media, who are often on the scene before the EOD teams arrive. Two local radio newscasters came to cover the training and ended up assisting with several of the drills, painting a more realistic portrait of how the scene might appear if they come across a suspected bomb.

The seminar concluded with a disposal operation at the Sambay beach in the Barangay Banigan. Many PNP units have stockpiles of old explosives, which may become dangerous if lawless groups gain access to them. The controlled disposal operation ensured terrorists will not gain access to these devices.

“I am very happy we could partner with the PNP and conduct this training together. IEDs are a huge threat here, and we are happy to share our experiences with the first responders. It is an honor to be here working with such trained and skilled professionals,” said Spalding.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

U.S. Navy Seabees, Local Residents Build School Together

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Public Affairs

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – With the help of local contractors and school officials, service members from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 1, assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, are in the final stages of building classrooms at the Lanao Agricultural College.

“It is a wonderful feeling we can assist the community and help build the school. It has been an honor to work with the local contractors and the school superintendent to make this project happen,” said Construction Electrician 1st Class Michael Kelley from New Castle, PA, the project supervisor.

The JSOTF-P Seabees are working side-by-side with the community, as two local electrical engineers and two staff members are also working on the project. Additionally, the school donated building supplies.

Reconstruction began last June for the two-building project, which includes the college’s main 5800 square-foot building and a 1000 square-foot science building. The team is currently working on dividing the main building into six classrooms and constructing a separate bathroom facility.

The project also includes a complete septic system, electrical power distribution, lighting, fans, and a generator.

“We are very happy our people are working together on this school with the U.S. forces. Our people will greatly benefit from this project,” said Jasmine B. Asum, the head high school instructor.

Based out of Gulfport, Miss., the NMCB 1 Seabees arrived in Aug., relieving Naval Mobile Construction (NMCB) 40 to continue building the school.

Working 12-hour shifts, six days per week, crews are working non-stop to finish the project. Plans are in place to celebrate the opening of the buildings with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The crew here and local contractors working on this project have been absolutely phenomenal. They have such pride in their work and we constantly hear from the school officials what a great job they are doing,” said a U.S. Army Special Forces officer-in-charge for the Marawi area.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Local Vet and JSOTF-P Treat Animals at VETCAP

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Public Affairs

Lanao Del Sur, Philippines – In cooperation with one of only two veterinarians in the province, members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines treated livestock and pets at a Veterinarian Civil Action Project Nov. 2-3.

The VETCAP was an opportunity for local residents to receive free care and education on their animals. Locals spent the first day in a seminar and brought their livestock on the following day for treatment. Many of the area’s barangay chairmen and instructors from the college attended the classroom portion and learned methods of treating sick animals, how to give shots and prevent diseases.

Additionally, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 103rd Brigade, Alpha Company provided security, making the project a collaborative effort of both militaries and local leadership.

“It was great to see all the barangay chairmen and leadership from the Lumbayanague municipality attends this today. It is very beneficial to our people as many of them are engaged in farming,” said Arimao S. Asum, the school’s superintendent.

With so few veterinarians locally, JSOTF-P veterinarian U.S. Army Lt. Col. Stephen Goldsmith emphasized the importance of farmers learning to treat animals themselves, and steps they can take to have healthier, more productive livestock and pets.

“A sick animal cannot produce meat, milk or other products. You want to do what you can to try and keep your animals healthy,” he said.

With help from Dr. Pendatun R. Masanang, from the Philippine Carabao Center (who served as a translator), Goldsmith described the kinds of injections planned for the VETCAP. Additionally, the veterinarian team passed out pamphlets from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, describing what to do if they suspect their poultry have contracted avian influenza.

The following day, local residents brought cows, cats, horses, dogs, goats and roosters for treatment. The animals received deworming medication, vitamins and two puppies received rabies vaccinations.

Many members of the local community watched as military technicians treated animals. In this area, professionalized animal care is virtually non-existent, making the need for these services vital for the livelihood of the community.

Those attending the workshop were given information on how to maintain the health of their animals. Healthier animals produce more offspring, milk, meat etc and may improve the economic situation of the community.

“We are very much thankful for the efforts of the U.S. team here for helping our animals and finding alternative ways to receive medicines,” said Masanang.

JSOTF-P is temporarily deployed in southern Philippines at the request of the Philippine government. Troops stationed here work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, providing assistance with a variety of different humanitarian and civil assistance projects.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

AFP and JSOTF-P Break New Ground in Isabela City

By Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Public Affairs

BASILAN, Philippines – Members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines and government officials celebrated the construction of Isabela City’s first Area Coordination Center during a ground-breaking ceremony Oct. 30.

With the land donated by the Isabela City government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is coordinating the project with funding provided by JSOTF-P.

“It is really something that we can be proud of and after working with the people from JSOTF-P, we now have something concrete. We have been working with them for the past year and they gave priority to our hospitals, our education, they have been in our schools, and now this project. We are just really happy,” said Ramon Nuna, Isabela City administrator.

The project is expected to take about two months. Four buildings are planned on the roughly 3,000 square meter (28,000 square feet) property, located in Barangay (community) Sunrise. The buildings will serve as a location for government, the AFP, Philippine National Police and non-profit organizations to hold meetings, as well as a place of celebration for weddings and birthdays.

“I am so happy that this center will serve as place of peace and development efforts. I know that the U.S. has helped so many Basilans,” said Isabela City Mayor Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar. “Any group or organization will be able to use this facility once completed.”

The buildings are planned to be the focal point for much of the city’s disaster planning and give government leaders an area to coordinate future development projects.

The ceremony began with brief remarks by many of the lead coordinators for the project, including Lt. Col. Fernandez Gomez, commander of AFP’s Marine Battalion Landing Team-One, who expressed his appreciation for the assistance of the U.S. forces.

“I want to convey my gratitude to the U.S. team for not only the work of this project for the last nine months, but for many other projects in my area of responsibility,” said Gomez.

Later, the mayor, Gomez, and U.S. Army Capt. Charlie Claypool, assigned to JSOTF-P, buried a capsule containing the maps and blueprints of the project. This signifies the beginning of the construction efforts.

JSOTF-P has worked in collaboration on a number of construction projects in Basilan, including another ACC in Lamitan City and the recently started road construction project in Tipo-Tipo.

“It’s so great to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the local government officials including the mayor to bring peace and development to Isabela City. We are honored to be a part of this construction effort,” said Staff Sgt. Douglas A. Jones, a member of JSOTF-P’s Civil Affairs Team 734.

At the request of the Philippine government, JSOTF-P partners with the AFP on a number of construction projects including schools, roads, and other infrastructure projects with the hope of bringing stability to the region.