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Friday, July 2, 2010

U.S. commander leaves lasting impact in southern Philippines

By Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class (AW) Josh Scott, Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Republic of the Philippines – Senior Philippine military and U.S. leaders recognized the exemplary service of a U.S. Army Special Forces commander who led U.S. efforts to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ fight against terrorism in the southern Philippines.

Col. William J. Coultrup, Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P) relinquished command to U.S. Navy Capt. Robert V. Gusentine during a change-of-command ceremony held at Camp Navarro, Western Mindanao Command Headquarters July 2.

“Bill, you are a true hero. It is an honor to be here recognizing your leadership, courage, vision and sheer tenacity,” said guest speaker, Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas, Jr. praising the accomplishments of Coultrup.

“You are an extraordinary leader who has developed JSOTF-P into an enabling force for peace, for improvement, and for progress in Mindanao,” said Thomas.

Since arriving in the Philippines, Coultrup has overseen the completion of more than 151 developmental projects valued over $19 million. These projects were coordinated with the AFP and Government of the Republic of the Philippines to create the conditions necessary for socio-economic development, peace and prosperity in the Mindanao region.

“Newly built schools, new wells, repaired roads, bridges, medication for health aliments, vaccinations for animals, school supplies for the children, or basic education and information are all small steps that allow individuals and families to have hope for a better future,” said Coultrup. “By doing so, we are gradually shrinking terrorist safe havens and hampering these groups’ ability to conduct operations in the southern Philippines.”

Improving the living conditions and livelihood of the people, helps separate them from the terrorist and lawless elements resulting in the steady erosion of popular support for the insurgents and increasing support for the Philippine government.

Coultrup’s implementation of the “by, through, and with” method of foreign internal defense was key to building operational capacity in the AFP. By integrating all aspects of national power to include military, political, and economic means into a cohesive strategy for engagement, a significant and lasting improvement in the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capacity in the southern Philippines has been made.

“In today’s world where terrorism is a global threat to national interests worldwide, the AFP / JSOTF-P partnership stands as an example for any future efforts in all regions,” he said. “Also, the efforts of USAID, Department of Justice, the Peace Corps and others have been complimentary and supportive of the overall goal of peace in Mindanao.”

Col. Jose Johriel M. Cenabre, Chief of Staff, Western Mindanao Command has served and trained alongside JSOTF-P forces on the ground and at the headquarters level. He praised Coultrup for enhancing the enduring partnership to defeat common enemies in Mindanao.

“Our war against terrorism and lawlessness in the Mindanao region has us (AFP) with the upper-hand,” said Cenabre. “Col. Coultrup’s focus on civic action programs has improved the quality of life for the people and specialized training has increased the capacity of the AFP.”

Coultrup’s leadership helped build AFP and PNP capacity through Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEEs) that provided training in marksmanship skills, small unit tactics and explosive ordnance disposal, forward air control, maritime operations and casualty evacuation. Assistance has also been provided to the AFP in special operations planning and the sharing of information. The AFP has been successful in conducting targeted surgical strikes, designed to minimize collateral damage while neutralizing the threats, these efforts have led to the execution or capture of 56 known terrorists.

“The citizens of the Philippines can be proud of the men and women of their Armed Forces. I know I am,” he said. “To the AFP, I challenge all of you to continue moving forward in this common cause leveraging the same innovation, ingenuity and initiative that has brought us to this historic moment.”

Coultrup, whose next assignment is in Washington D.C., said this command has been one of his most rewarding.

“My service here has been one the most rewarding times of my career in the military and in Special Operations. I have seen heartbreaking events and things that make me proud to be in the military doing this job,” said Coultrup.

“And through it all, the men and women of the JSOTF-P have been there, side by side with their AFP counterparts working to bring a better life to the people of Mindanao. It has been my distinct pleasure to serve with you,” he ended.

Gusentine, former Director for Operations at Special Operations Command Pacific in Hawaii, expressed his views on the relationship between the American and Filipino people.

“The relationship between the Filipino and American people is unique and strong,” said Gusentine. “I can say from my own 24 years of service that nearly every unit in the U.S. military has a bond with a Filipino family. It is within this unique nation-to-nation relationship – within this family-to-family bond that we will find the commitment, creativity and courage to succeed balikatan – shoulder to shoulder.”

Ambassador Thomas extended his congratulations to Gusentine and told him the embassy offers their continued support to the AFP/U.S. partnership.

“You inherit a thriving command and an excellent relationship with the AFP. You can count on us, and I know we can count on you,” concluded the Ambassador.

At the request of the Philippine Government, JSOTF-P supports the comprehensive approach of the AFP in their fight against terrorism in the southern Philippines. JSOTF-P works alongside the AFP to create the conditions necessary for peace, stability and prosperity.

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