American soldiers find special friends in Albay

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GUINOBATAN, ALBAY: In real life, it’s hard to find a true friend who will stick with you till the end. However, American soldiers believe they have found not one but three special friends in the person of elementary schoolchildren whom they recently treated to a storytelling session.

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Making new friends and telling stories to kids was one of the highlights of the visit of members of the United States Armed Forces (USAF) who stayed in the remote communities of Albay for a week to carry out their humanitarian mission.

They were part of the month-long RP-US Balikatan 2014 in the remote communities of Guinobatan and Legazpi City that began Tuesday.

US Army Staff Sergeant Adriane A. Hackleyson of the 84th Engineering Batallion—643rd Company based in Hawaii, was among those who helped build a clinic in Malobago village and gained a lot of friends in the process. These included children who anxiously listened to his stories.

He was joined by colleagues US Marine Specialist Ryan R. Marshell and Lance Corporal Ezequiel E. Santelises of the Marine Wing Support Squadron 172nd Combat Engineering based in Okinawa, Japan. The three read books to their new friends Angel O. Diaz, 11; Chattelyn Pearl Arevalo, 11; and Danna Joy Oliquindo, 11 – incoming grade 6 students at Malobago Elementary School.

To return the favor, the kids also taught the American soldiers how to read a Filipino book and speak the language.

For Army Captain Edward Ellingson, USAF civil-military operations chief, the humanitarian mission was a break from his usual work in shooting down enemy aircraft.

“I’m so happy with this mission because we were able to work with the community where our soldiers fostered good relationships with the people of Albay and learned a lot from our Filipino counterparts. The structures we built might crumble in the future but the friendship and the memories we gained will be cherished forever,” he said.

“We’re working together today for a better tomorrow. Filipino children are so friendly and play with us. I’ve been to 23 countries and this is my first time in Philippines. The Filipino smile is a very sincere smile. My experience here is among the best and this is our most productive mission,” he added.

Col. Curtis Lee, commander of the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force and the Balikatan 2014 of the US Armed Forces, said that they are working together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in helping the community.

“You will see our men from the USAF out there in your communities doing engineering projects and working with your medical community. We want to emphasize that we will be learning as much from you as you are from us. We are all here to share the best practices,” he said.

Balikatan Exercise 2014 is a bilateral exercise between the USAF and the AFP that focuses on humanitarian civic assistance programs with two major categories: the Engineering Civic Assistance Program (ENCAP) and Cooperative Healthcare Engagement Program (CHEP) that will both benefit the communities of Legazpi and the town of Guinobatan.

ENCAP includes the construction of classrooms at Malobago Elementary School and Doña Mercedes Elementary School; the construction of a public comfort room at Barangay Pawa in Legazpi; repairs and improvements in the Tamaoyan Elementary School; and the construction of a health center at Barangay Malobago in Guinobatan.

CHEP involves conducting health symposia with professional health workers from the Bicol Region to educate barangay health workers, and healthcare personnel from Barangays Sinungtan and Doña Mercedes in Guinobatan, and Barangay Rawis in Legazpi.

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