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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sulu Residents Celebrate New Road and School in Kagay

By Lt. Col. Jerry Lobb, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Public Affairs

SULU, Philippines-Armed Forces of the Philippines Joint Task Force Comet and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines turned over an elementary school and the Kagay-Langpas road to local government officials in a ceremony at Barangay (community) Kagay Jan. 14.

The school and road are just two of many development projects taking place in Sulu through the cooperative efforts of the AFP, local officials and JSOTF-P. The projects are designed to provide economic opportunities for residents and give the children of Sulu better educational facilities.

At the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of JTF Comet and Col. William Coultrup, commander of JSOTF-P and Maj. Scott Malone, commander of Task Force Sulu turned over a key and wrench to Kagay Barangay Chairman Ganih Nur., symbolizing the completion of both projects.

“The people here have already improved their incomes since they now can easily move the fruit they grow to market while it is still fresh and in good condition,” said Nur. “As a result they get better prices at the market. The road also opens up possibilities for residents to be employed in Jolo City,” he said.

The projects were completed through the combined efforts of the Philippine Marine Corps and the U.S. Armed Forces. U.S. Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-One built the school, while AFP Marines from Marine Landing Battalion Team-6 provided security.

“We are partners in peace. We are here to support the children to provide opportunities for education, medical care and a road that can take your goods to market so you can to earn money for your Barangay and improve the lives of your children,” said Malone.

The road cost P19 million to complete, stretches five kilometers and was built by local contractors.

The school will accommodate 250 students and was built for P7.2 million. It includes four classrooms, restrooms, a complete septic system, electrical power distribution, lighting, fans and a generator. A contracting company completed the roof of the school.

The completion of the school was especially important, as construction was delayed by a tragic incident in September.

On Sept. 29, two Army Special Forces Soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw and Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin, and Pfc. Jerwin J. Estrada of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team-6 were killed when their vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device as they travelled to the school site. The Soldiers were conducting a resupply mission in the vicinity of the school when the incident occurred.

At that point, construction was halted for six weeks while teams regrouped and a security plan was reestablished. Contractors and Navy Seabees then returned to the area, determined to complete the project. Finishing the school demonstrated a resolve that lawless elements could not halt infrastructure development in Jolo.

“I am thankful to JTF Comet and Task Force Sulu for the efforts with the projects being handed over today. On behalf of the people of Kagay, we extend our sincerest thanks and request continued support from the AFP and the Americans,” said Nur.

Educators, City Officials and JSOTF-P Dedicate Birthing Clinic

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

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines- Representatives from Mein College, government officials and members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines gathered to celebrate the dedication of Mein Gentle Births, a maternity and birthing center in Zamboanga City Jan. 14.

“This birthing center will contribute will contribute to the welfare and development of the community,” said Marycel Engracia, the vice president for Mein College. “And, we want this to be a training facility for our midwifery students.”

The four-room facility facing San Jose Guso Road will provide low-cost prenatal and postpartum care. The clinic is also designed to accommodate normal deliveries and provide immunizations for young children.

The ceremony began with a Catholic blessing followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Guests were also given a tour of the newly-painted pink and white building, complete with a labor room, rooms for birthing and a spacious waiting area.

After the tour, several of the educators and government officials who made this project a reality spoke about the significance of the clinic.

Mein College has a long history of partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and JSOTF-P. In fact, the birthing center was made possible through the support of AFP’s Western Mindanao Command, Naval Forces Western Mindanao and JSOTF-P.

“The opening of this clinic will be a huge benefit for the people and families using this facility. But, it is also a victory in Zamboanga in that it represents what is possible when responsible citizens and organizations collaborate for the good of the community,” said JSOTF-P’s Chief of Staff Air Force Lt. Col. David Smith.

Smith also spoke on the importance of JSOTF-P’s involvement in the project, as many of the colleges students come from Jolo, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan where AFP and JSOTF-P work together to improve the conditions there and contribute to the economic development of the region.

Other community organizations that contributed to the two-year project include: Engineering Design Consultancy, Inc, the Midwifery Club, Muslim Students Organization, Voice of Mindanao and the Zamboanga City Health Office.

Other projects with Mein College include last December’s Medical Civic Action Program, with participation from the AFP and JSOTF-P in December. Hundreds of Zamboanga City residents received free health services from AFP’s Camp Navarro General Hospital and medications from JSOTF-P.

Plans are in place for the birthing clinic to open in June, initially in shifts, with the goal of providing 24-hour care in the coming weeks.

“It is an honor to be standing with our partners today and share in celebration for the people of Zamboanga and the community at large,” said Smith.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

JSOTF-P Seabees Construct Schools; Build Relationships

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

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Thirty Seabees serving with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines are assisting with infrastructure projects to form lasting bonds and improve the lives of thousands of Filipinos.

The construction projects are part of the overall JSOTF-P mission to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines and local government officials in countering terrorist networks and bringing economic prosperity through humanitarian and engineering projects.

Some examples are the building of bridges, wells, community centers, medical clinics and school buildings. Seabees accomplish this by working side-by-side with their AFP counterparts and local contractors.

For many years, Navy Seabees have been conducting temporary deployments to the Southern Philippines to conduct military exercises and humanitarian missions, such as Balikatan and Pacific Partnership.

The process to initiate construction starts when projects are jointly nominated by Philippine government leaders, the AFP and JSOTF-P Civil Affairs Teams based on surveys of conflict-affected areas. Once approved by all three elements, teams set up site surveys to assess logistics issues such as lodging, meals, materials and transportation to the remote job site.

All of the JSOTF-P civic-action projects aim to promote peace and stability throughout the Mindanao region..

The current JSOTF-P Seabee detachment deployed here is originally from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-One, out of Gulfport, Miss. and has been in the Philippines since August. There are two teams here, with approximately 12 Seabees comprising each crew.

“It is a wonderful feeling we can assist the community and help build schools in the Philippines. 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 (SCW) Michael Kelley, the project supervisor for one of the projects.

Government officials and school administration leaders also participate in the construction efforts, inspecting the workmanship and offering assistance when needed. And, building materials come from the local community.

“All of our materials have been purchased by local contractors and delivered to the job site by local contractors, positively affecting the local economy,” said Chief Steelworker (SCW) Jeffrey Wright, the Seabee senior enlisted leader.

Another unique aspect about the mission here for the Seabees is that the construction projects directly impact the local residents.

“There is a great satisfaction in doing humanitarian projects here. We have a fairly young crew, some on their first deployment. So, the fact that they can interact directly with the customer who they are affecting is really meaningful,” said Wright.

Constructing schools have been the focus of the current team here, with two current school projects in particular. Both buildings are also made possible with the help of the AFP, whose forces provide security while the Seabees are working.

The first project is on the island of Jolo, in the Barangay (community) Kagay, with the construction of an elementary school. Seabees built two school buildings and a bathroom.

The completion of the school this past December was especially important for the crew, as they had to stop in the middle of the project due to a tragic incident a few months back.

On Sept. 29, two Army Special Forces Soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw and Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin, and Pfc. Jerwin J. Estrada of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team-6 were killed when their vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device as they travelled to the school site. The soldiers were conducting a resupply mission in the vicinity of the school when the incident occurred.

At that point, construction was halted for six weeks while teams regrouped and a security plan was reestablished. The team returned to the area, determined to complete the project. Finishing the school demonstrated a resolve that lawless elements could not halt infrastructure developments in Jolo.

“One of our main concerns, when we went back out there was that we already had three guys lives invested into this project,” said Steelworker Constructionman Nicholas Moore.

“To not complete [the school] would have been letting them down because these two Special Forces Soldiers did everything they could to help us see it through to the end. They always made sure they could get us any kind of supplies we needed, and they pushed and pushed and made things happen,” he said.

Wright also spoke of the Seabees determination to see this project to completion.

“The Kagay team was glad to go back and finish the school. I don’t think they would have been satisfied if they had been forced to leave project incomplete,” he said.

Finishing the Kagay School was an achievement for everyone who was involved in the project. It also was a statement to the community and surrounding areas that the Seabee team was there to help and could not be deterred.

“When we were done with the school, everyone was just thrilled. During the last week, when we were finishing up, the locals were out there helping us paint, doing finishing touches and they erected a flagpool and monument,” said Moore.

Construction Electrician Constructman Alex Pisa talked about the satisfaction of completing the Kagay School.

“It was exciting to work on the school and a great feeling of accomplishment to know we were doing such a good thing for the community,” said Pisa.

The second project involved the building of two structures at the Lanao Agricultural College, which consisted of six classrooms, with a 5800 square-foot main building and a 1000 square-foot science building.

Both projects include a complete septic system, electrical power distribution, lighting, fans, and a generator. The completion of these projects were made official and turned over to the community with recent ribbon-cutting ceremonies where members of the local governments, AFP and JSOTF-P leadership attended.

Working conditions for the crew here are rigorous, with crews working 12-hour shifts, six days per week. Seabees live in walking distance of the sites and often go without many of the amenities other deployed service members may have.

The Philippines is hot and humid, with temperatures usually in the upper 80s to low 90s. Crews must not only withstand rising temperatures, they often go months without access to phones and internet. But, ask any of the Seabees, and they will say the satisfaction of completing the project and giving the community a much-needed resource is worth all the hard work.

“There is a strong tie between us and the locals here. Both the crews and residents were very emotional about the completion of these two projects. The Seabees are very satisfied with the impact they are able to have on the local communities,” said Wright.

Future projects for teams here will be the renovations of the two elementary Schools in Marawi, as well as what are known as “camp support” projects. These are projects designed to improve the living conditions and capabilities of U.S. forces and contractors. Both projects will involve the renovation of living spaces inside AFP camps.

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

MBLT-5 and JSOTF-P Partner for Medical and Vet Missions in Sulu

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

SULU, Philippines-More than 1,500 people gathered in Barangay Taglibi and surrounding areas to attend an education symposium and receive care at a Medical and Veterinarian Civic Action Program at Datu Uddin Bahjin Central Elementary School in the Patikul municipality Jan. 8.

Organized by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Marine Battalion Landing Team-5 in collaboration with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, patients received medical and dental care and prescriptions.

Additionally, farmers brought their animals for parasite control medication and vitamin treatments.

“It’s a great day and I’m very thankful to be here with our partners in peace; MBLT-5 and the community. As I look out into the crowd, I see the future professionals and those who will one day be making a difference in Jolo,” said JSOTF-P’s Army Special Forces team leader.

At the symposium titled “Importance of Education Awareness,” prominent leaders in the community including barangay representatives, MBLT-5 officers, teachers and School Principal Hja Sitti Lina Asjal all spoke about the role everyone plays in educating children in Sulu.

“What matters most is not what we become, but what others become because of us. These children here are the future, and the future of our education in Sulu. We thank all of you for coming and helping to develop this relationship with our school officials and the military,” said Asjal.

After the opening ceremonies, patients and farmers lined up to receive care. JSOTF-P’s Military Information Support Team was also on-hand, handing out coloring and comic books, as well as playing with the children.

Attendees were also given the opportunity to see a traditional Filipino dance put together by the students.

The following day, a VETCAP was put together by MBLT-5 and JSOTF-P at the AFP Marine camp headquarters. Many of the camp’s dogs and other pets were given anti-rabies vaccines and treated for parasites. The camp’s landowner, Hadja Hadja Samsarani, brought her cow to receive deworming and vitamin treatments.

At the VETCAP, Samsarani said that local farmers didn’t bring their animals due to concerns about two cows from Eastern Sulu that reportedly became sick sometime after a joint US-AFP-GRP exercise in 2008.

JSOTF-P Veterinarian Lt. Col. Stephen Goldsmith said this story periodically circulates among the farmers. However, according to Goldsmith, the report was never confirmed and the medications used in the exercise were very mild and non-reactive.

Goldsmith emphasized that the treatments given during VETCAPs are proven safe and effectively kill parasites, resulting in weight gain and improved health. Often, the animals on Sulu are in poor health and very emaciated due to malnutrition and severe parasite infection. Some have diarrhea, skin infections and are weak and stunted.

“In many of the barangays on Sulu, after the VETCAPs many farmers report dramatic health improvement with weight gain, removal of parasites, increased activity and improved skin and body condition,” said Goldsmith.

In the coming weeks, Goldsmith will go back to Patikul and give a seminar to all the barangay chairmen in the area, to spread awareness on the diseases common on Sulu and the effectiveness and safety of medications. These same medications are used in other agricultural regions in the Philippines by farmers and the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

At the request of the Philippine government, JSOTF-P partners with the AFP to conduct a variety of humanitarian, engineering and livelihood projects. Teams here work side-by-side with military forces and Local Government Units to bring peace and prosperity to conflict-affected areas in Southern Mindanao.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MBLT-3 and Task Force Sulu Treat Patients and Animals at MEDCAP and VETCAP

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

SULU, Philippines- Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Marine Battalion Landing Team-3-with assistance from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines-treated 135 patients and 31 farm animals in Barangay (community) Asin, located in the Panamao municipality Jan. 7.

Held at the Tabuasin Primary School, AFP, JSOTF-P and regional health officials partnered for the Medical and Veterinarian Civic Action Program, bringing much-needed medical and veterinarian services to the coastal barangay.

Previously, many residents had never seen APF troops before and historically lawless groups have resided in the region.

Officials at the MEDCAP and VETCAP hope that by bringing these organizations together for free medical services, it can help provide peace and stability and improve the health for people in this remote area.

“I am honored to be here today. We have a long, working relationship with MBLT-3 to help the people of Sulu. We have done many projects, to include school renovations, roads, piers, and wells. We hope that through the support provided today, we will continue this friendship,” said the U.S. Army Special Forces team leader for Liaison Coordination Element 1333-B.

At the opening ceremony, several key leaders spoke including Asim’s Barangay Chairman, MBLT-3’s Civil Military Officer Lt. Francisco R. Sayoc, JSOTF-P Veterinarian Lt. Col. Stephen Goldsmith and the LCE 1333-B team leader.

As medical and veterinarian services are virtually non-existent in the region, the event provided an opportunity for residents to receive treatments for themselves and their animals. Patients received check-ups and prescription medications and animals were treated with deworming medications and vitamin supplements.

“This was a very successful MEDCAP. The Panamao Regional Health Office pretty much ran the event. They brought heath care providers, midwives, pharmacists and nurses. They worked closely with MBLT-3 to make today happen,” said a U.S. Army Special Forces Medic at the MEDCAP.

“JSOTF-P provided the vet services and donated medications, but it was the cooperation of the AFP and the local health and government officials who really deserve the credit for this event,” he said.

Throughout the day, children received crayons with coloring and comic books. To pass the time waiting for treatment, kids sang, danced and watched movies with AFP Marines in a nearby classroom.

MBLT-3 and JSOTF-P regularly partner for a number of medical programs, including a weekly medical clinic at the AFP’s Marine Camp Tandu Batu, which serves populations from Luuk, Omar and Panamao municipalities.

Since the current LCE team deployed to Sulu in late July, more than 1,700 patients have received care via MEDCAPs and other medical outreach programs. U.S. Army Special Forces medics and the JSOTF-P veterinarian work shoulder-to-shoulder with AFP Marine medics and regional health officials treating minor ailments, vaccinating animals and performing tooth extractions and minor surgeries.

Additionally, teams here provide parasite control medications and vitamin supplementation for livestock.

“We hope that by coming here today, we have built good relationships and demonstrated that war is not the solution. We come to show that the people here are very important to us,” said 2nd Lt. Zues Alondra, an officer with MBLT-3.