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Thursday, December 31, 2009

JSOTF-P Members Pray and Sing Christmas Carols with AFP Troops

By Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Public Affairs

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines-A dozen members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, along with members of a local Baptist church, spent Christmas Eve singing and praying with patients at Western Mindanao Command’s Camp Navarro General Hospital Dec. 24.

Led by U.S. Air Force Chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Thompson, task force members shared the holiday with about 40 Armed Forces of the Philippines members and hospital staff who were unable to be with their families for the holidays.

“For me, the caroling was a great opportunity to celebrate Christmas together,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Boyer. “To just go there and sing songs that are familiar to everyone across the world made it feel so much more like Christmas,” he said.

Additionally, a handful of children and adults from Zamboanga Baptist church also participated. Thompson has an ongoing partnership with the church, after recently giving a sermon there.

“The patients and staff at the hospital along with the children in the neighborhoods were so appreciative that we would share with them, but we were the ones who were the most blessed,” said Thompson.

Task force members sang holiday carols such as “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Joy to the World.” Church members brought a guitar and several skilled vocalists from their choir, enhancing the performance.

As troops went from room to room, church members and JSOTF-P troops sang songs and prayed with the patients and staff at the hospital. In one room, an AFP soldier held the chaplain’s hand while they prayed together.

The following day, 20 JSOTF-P members went caroling at Edwin Andrews Air Force Base and visited with numerous Philippine Air Force airmen and their families.

JSOTF-P’s chaplain services office has organized several projects with the AFP and Zamboanga community. Events have including disaster-planning courses, visits to local orphanages, networking with area churches, and delivering clothes and other supplies for Medical Civic Action Projects.

Not only has the chaplain’s office served the Filipino community, they spearheaded a stocking stuffer project for other servicemembers. Volunteers put together more than 600 holiday stockings for everyone assigned to JSOTF-P, made up from donated care packages from U.S. citizens, non-profits, and businesses.

The current chaplain team will be departing JSOTF-P at the end of January, having helped thousands of AFP and U.S troops via these visits and subject-matter exchanges.

“It has been a great honor to serve the troops and local residents. I am glad that I could assist the people here. I have really enjoyed my time in the Philippines, and I am glad we can help,” said Air Force Chaplain Assistant Master Sgt. Rose Gould.

Monday, December 28, 2009

JSOTF-P conducts bomb training with the Philippine National Police

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

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines- Members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines taught more than 40 officers from the Philippine National Police techniques for identifying homemade bombs in Zamboanga del Norte province Dec 22-23.

Law enforcement in Zamboanga regularly come across suspected IEDs and often have to investigate individuals accused of making homemade bombs, making this training imperative to perform their duties.

Three JSOTF-P members, from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit 5 (MU-5), spent two days teaching bomb squad officers from the Regional Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Detection Unit 9 (REODDU9)

PNP officers spent the first day in a classroom setting learning about materials used to make crude Improvised Explosive Devices. On the second day, the bomb squad detonated the explosives during a live-fire exercise at police headquarters.

“The purpose of the class was to teach the bomb squads what to look for when searching a property of someone who is suspected of making explosives. Even typical household products can be used for making IEDs,” said Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician 2nd Class Dave Friedman.

For the past six months, MU-5 members have been working closely with the Region Nine bomb squad on a variety of different training exercises, building their capacity to better recognize, respond and overall counter IEDs in the Philippines.

In our job, we must understand the mixtures that can make up these IEDs, so we can counter them,” said PO1 Kenneby Damsid, a bomb technician with Region Nine. “We really enjoy working with the JSOTF-P EOD teams, we learn so much from them,” he said.

JSOTF-P EOD teams are situated at various locations throughout the Southern Philippines, assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the PNP, and Local Government Units. Using a combination of classroom instruction, city-wide drills, and demolition exercises, teams are sharing their years of training on how to detect and safely render safe IEDs.

Teams here draw upon not only their experience working in the Philippines, but also knowledge gained by multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It is great to share our knowledge with the teams here. I feel honored to work with the AFP and PNP teams, and I am glad we can share our best practices with them,” said Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician 2nd Class Daniel Smith.

Friday, December 25, 2009

JSOTF-P brightens spirits at Social Development Center

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

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines - Twenty members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines spent a special holiday evening visiting children at the Social Development Center in Zamboanga City Dec. 23.

“It made me feel really good to give my time and spent time with the kids. I was excited about it and could tell they were excited to see us,” said U.S. Navy Aerographer's Mate 1st Class (AW/SW) Christopher Cross.

Founded in 1994, the center serves as a residential facility for children who are abandoned, neglected, orphaned, or abused. The children here receive personal care and rehabilitative services, with the hopes that they will eventually be reintegrated back to their families and communities.

JSOTF-P volunteers started the evening playing games and singing Christmas carols with the nearly 60 children at the center. Later, children received Christmas stockings and ate popcorn while watching movies. When the movie ended, the kids were led upstairs so they could see for the first time their new bedding, donated by members of the task force.

The JSOTF-P chaplain team-consisting of two Air Force members along with their Armed Forces of the Philippines counterparts-spearheaded the project.

JSOTF-P has had an established relationship with the center spanning several years. From renovations to the facilities to donating toys, it has been a long-term priority of the command to give back to children in need.

“Last year at the center, we had the MIST [Military Information Support Team] senior enlisted leader dress as Santa Claus and had out toys to the children. It was really nice to see the kid’s faces light up as they received their Christmas gifts,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Randall.

In addition to this visit, over the last few months around 100 JSOTF-P volunteers helped with painting the boys and girls rooms. At the time, volunteers assessed the children were also in need of new bedding, mattresses and draperies.

From that point, a collection was taken and dozens of JSOTF-P service members contributed to a fund which paid for new bedding and drapes, courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command Tailor.

Additionally, members of JSOTF-P’s MIST donated approximately 20 mattresses, replacing the children’s beds consisting of foam padding.

After the rooms were painted, several of the children expressed their excitement with their new rooms. One young girl mentioned that she is now proud to have her friends over and visit her freshly-painted bedroom.

In the coming weeks, JSOTF-P volunteers are also installing new doors and mosquito netting to decrease the outbreak of dengue fever among the children.

“The children are so happy that you guys are here. Thank you so much for everything,” said Rizal Bacolod, a 17-year-old boy who lives at the center.

Monday, December 21, 2009

JSOTF-P partners with AFP and local governments to dedicate two area coordination centers

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

SULU, Philippines- Armed Forces of the Philippines, local officials and members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines came together to dedicate two Area Coordination Centers in Sulu province Dec. 15 and Dec. 17.

The ceremonies took place in the municipalities of Hadji Paglima Tahil Dec. 15 and in Pata Dec. 17. Both were made possible in part by funding and support from Sulu Governor AbduSakur Tan, AFP’s Task Force Comet and JSOTF-P.

“The children of Sulu are why we do what we do,” said JSOTF-P’s Task Force Sulu Commander U.S. Army Maj. Scott Malone. “We come together as partners of peace, to bring a brighter future for the children here,” he said.

Both ACCs consist of several buildings to include an administration building, a market area and a meeting hall local residents can use for community meetings.

In addition to using the ACCs for governmental meetings, they are also a venue for celebrations and official ceremonies.

The building turnovers came just days after Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Jolo Airport Runway.

The renovated airport was made possible with funds from the United States Agency for International Development’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao Program and the Philippine Department of Transportation and Communications.

During the Dec. 15 ceremony, Panglima Tahil Mayor Nedra Burahan thanked the AFP and JSOTF-P for their support of the project.

“Thank you for making my vision a reality,” said Burahan.

Also in attendance were Task Force Comet Commander Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, Sulu Gov. AbduSakur Tan, and Jolo Mayor Hussein Amin.

The Dec. 17 ceremony on Pata Island was a welcome addition for the surrounding Barangays in the area. Previously, residents did not have a centralized facility to conduct official meetings and develop plans to improve conditions here.

“This project represents over a year’s worth of efforts by individuals not just here today, but the individuals who have surveyed the area and constructed the building. For all of them, I would like to say thank you,” said the U.S. Army Capt. Mark Grado, commander for JSOTF-P’s Liaison Coordination Element.

Fazlur-Rahman Abdulla, the ACC executive director, said during the ceremony that it is up to the people of Sulu to make full use of the building. He encouraged residents to meet there to discuss topics of concern. He also said that he appreciated the partnership between the AFP, JSOTF-P and local governments, that came together to make this project a reality.

In the coming days, more ACCs are scheduled for turn over to the Sulu government, signifying the commitment of the AFP and JSOTF-P to assist with bringing economic development and prosperity in the region.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

JSOTF-P’s Forward Surgical Team Making a Difference in Southern Philippines

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

SULU, Philippines-On the southern island of Jolo, Philippines five members of the U.S. Air Force are operating a fully-equipped trauma center, providing emergency care, basic medical care and educational services to hundreds of Filipino and U.S. troops.

The Air Force members comprise the Forward Surgical Team, assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, and they run the only treatment center of its kind here.

The team consists of a general surgeon, nurse anesthetist, two physician assistants specially trained in orthopedics and emergency medicine, and one operating room technician. They work as a close-knit team, but are deployed from five different Air Force bases.

“Our primary mission here is to provide emergency resuscitative care and surgery for the U.S. forces assigned to Jolo,” said Air Force Col. Michael Restey, FST’s general surgeon and team leader. “We can also keep a patient here for post-operative surgery care for up to 72 hours, if needed, depending on the air assets available.”

“And, we also assist the Philippine medical forces in their care of more than 3,000 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police,” he added.

During their four month deployment, the FST has treated more than 220 clinic patients and advised and assisted in the care of 32 combat casualties. This includes operative intervention in five patients critically injured, and took part in the care of more than 500 Filipinos during outreach medical clinics.

Additionally, the FST has a long-standing relationship with several medical organizations in the area, including the AFP Trauma Center and the Sulu Provincial hospital.

Often, JSOTF-P’s FST team will travel to these medical facilities and advise and assist with patient care.

"We try to help them and can jump in if needed, as well as bring supplies, such as ventilators, for the patients. It is great working with the medical staff at the trauma center. They do a great job with the resources they have,” said Restey.

In fact, the team recently evaluated six PNP members that were admitted to the Provincial Hospital for treatment of severe burns and trauma sustained in an explosion in downtown Jolo.

According to Restey, four of the patients were determined to have critical injuries and were transferred to the AFP Trauma Center where they were further resuscitated and stabilized with assistance from the FST prior to their evacuation by the Philippine Air Force to Zamboanga for further treatment.

“They know they can call on us and we are always prepared to assist, should the need arise,” said Restey.

Jolo is one of the most dangerous municipalities in the Sulu province due to the presence of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, which has lead to violence and instability in the region. The threat of attack on AFP soldiers on Jolo makes it imperative that medical personnel are trained and equipped to handle mass numbers of injured troops.

The FST consists of a fully equipped operating room, a four bed evaluation and resuscitation area, and an extensive medication and supply inventory to treat almost any medical or surgical emergency.

In addition to being on-call 24 hours a day for emergencies, the FST is always ready to treat servicemembers with basic preventive care and routine check-ups.

To accomplish emergency care, the teams have developed detailed plans that cover any type of contingency. From intricate triage and emergency evacuation plans, the team stands ready to assist when needed. FST members also live, eat, and sleep in the same building as the trauma facility, so they are always on-duty, ready to help.

The FST also supports Medical Civic Action Projects in the surrounding barangays. FST members often accompany Army Special Forces Medics and the JSOTF-P Civil Affairs Team, assigned to Task Force Sulu. These teams provide medical and dental care, distribute prescription medications, and perform minor surgeries.

“The heath care we receive here is good because it helps so many of us. We really can’t afford these treatments and it builds good relationships with the community,” said Hinjug Idris, a resident of Barangay Danag, who was given basic medical care at a recent MEDCAP.

In addition to treating U.S. and Filipino patients, FST members participate in a variety of educational programs with the Notre Dame College of Nursing and the Jolo Rescue Unit. These exchanges allow them to share their expertise with local Filipino health care providers.

“Though our primary mission is to care for U.S. personnel, we embrace the Army Special Forces spirit of providing not only medical care, but education and training to the AFP and civilians,” said Lt. Col. Arnold Stocker, the team’s nurse anesthetist, who has been involved in several of the training initiatives.

In the past, medical teams have held courses on basic CPR, advanced cardiac and trauma life support, basic EMT procedures, and post-operative surgical nursing care.

With capacity building as one of the cornerstones of the JSOTF-P mission, the FST continues to use their many skill sets to treat patients, educate medical providers and build relationships with their Filipino counterparts.

“I am grateful for the Forward Surgical Team here in Jolo. The partnerships that they have with the AFP medical staff and the Sulu Provincial hospital has been vital to success of the overall JSOTF-P mission,” said U.S. Army Maj. Scott Malone, the JSOTF-P TF Sulu commander.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

JSOTF-P Servicemembers Stuff 600 Holiday Stockings

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

ZAMBOANGA, Philipines- Dozens of members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines donated their time to stuff nearly 600 holiday stockings at JSOTF-P Camp Navarro headquarters Dec. 12

The stockings and the items inside were from donated care packages from U.S. citizens, churches, non-profit organizations, businesses, and JSOTF-P family members. The goal of the project was for every member of JSOTF-P to have a stocking, adding a little holiday cheer to the hundreds of task force members who are separated from their friends and families.

In addition to the stockings, task force members assembled care packages containing books, candy, toiletries and movies. The Western Mindanao Command Tailor made the stockings for a discounted price, while other handmade stockings came in the mail.

The idea for the project came from the JSOTF-P Command Chaplain team, who began receiving care packages for the troops last September. The Chaplain’s Assistant, Air Force Master Sgt. Rose Gould, sent individual thank-you notes to all those who sent the packages.

“I think it meant a lot to people to get a personalized note back, showing our appreciation for their donations. From there, we started getting even more care packages. We can’t even begin to express our gratitude for this outpouring of support. It really demonstrates the holiday spirit of giving to others,” said Gould.

After learning of the project from the task force members, JSOTF-P families and other organizations began organizing drives to send more supplies. In total, more than 200 care packages arrived at JSOTF-P headquarters, with many more coming in daily.

One of the volunteers who helped stuff the stockings was Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jarod Savage. In September, his wife Linda created an adopt-a-troop program, a collaborative effort from family, friends and other local organizations in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her efforts resulted in the shipment of 270 protein shake bottles, to not only JSOTF-P personnel, but for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

“I’m calling her a hero for this program because what she is doing is phenomenal. She had so many people involved in this, most importantly my two sons,” said Savage.

Many of the care packages came with hand-written letters from U.S. citizens, thanking the troops here for their service. Children from schools across the nation made cards, expressing their appreciation for the men and women in uniform.

John Cuthbertson, a sixth-grader from Fort Gratiot, Mich. writes, “Your bravery and courage to serve for our country is tremendous. To serve and risk your life for our country is amazing."

Over the next couple of weeks, the care packages will be sent to JSOTF-P members stationed throughout the southern Philippines.

At the request of the Philippine government, JSOTF-P partners with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other government units in a variety of humanitarian, construction, and other economic development projects. Teams stationed here aim to promote peace and prosperity throughout the Mindanao region.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Local Officials, AFP and JSOTF-P Celebrate Road Turnover

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

JOLO, Philippines-Hundreds of government leaders, representatives from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines gathered for the opening of a new road in Barangay (community) Kandayok Nov. 28.

The 1.9 kilometer Kandayok-Bagsak road runs through several isolated barangays throughout the Talipao municipality. Many of the residents here rely on farming for their income and previously had limited ways to get their produce to market.

Additionally, residents can now travel on this road to attend schools and access medical care.

Up to this point, only powerful four-wheel-drive vehicles could travel throughout the region, contributing to the economic instability in the area.

JSOTF-P funded the project and hired local contractors, beginning the project in September. Additionally, AFP’s Marine Battalion Team-11 provided security during the construction. Members of AFP and JSOTF-P supervised all aspects of the construction, ensuring that the road met all inspection requirements.

At the turnover ceremony, Ahmad Puddi, the chairman for Barangay Bagsak, spoke of the significance of the road and the collaborative efforts of JSOTF-P and the AFP.

“Because of this road, it is now much easier for our people to transport their goods. Thanks to all of you. Without the AFP and U.S. forces, there would be no good road,” he said.

Also in attendance for the turnover was Hon. Abdusakur M. Tan, Governor of Sulu province, Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander for Joint Task Force Comet, and U.S. Army Maj. Scott Malone, JSOTF-P Task Force Sulu commander.

The ceremony concluded with a Medical Civic Action Project in the Barangay Kandayok, where AFP and JSOTF-P medical staff treated more than 120 patients.

“This road is good and will allow for more comfortable travel. I can now transport my corn and casaba more easily to the market,” said a farmer who lives in the area.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

JSOTF-P and AFP Teach Disaster Awareness to Zamboanga Community Leaders

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

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines-Medical and chaplain staff from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines taught more than 70 Zamboanga community leaders best practices for disaster planning in Zamboanga City Dec. 3-4.

"We can't prevent all disasters, but we can plan and act to lessen their impact. For example, we can use warnings to evacuate people and get them out of flood prone areas when storms are approaching,” said Dareck Fabian, division chief for Zamboanga City, Social Welfare, and Development, who sponsored the event.

Taught by the AFP’s Camp Navarro General Hospital Psychologist Lolina Necesario Bajin and JSOTF-P Chaplain Assistant Rose Gould, the seminar pulled together skill sets both instructors previously held from their years of experience working in conflict-affected communities.

Focusing primarily on reducing the impact of natural and man-made disasters, civic leaders spent two days learning how to plan for the types of disasters most common here and how to respond to those in distress.

Additionally for the 20 barangay chairmen who attended, the course gave them tools to pull together available resources to alleviate the suffering of those in need. Gathering all the leaders in one place allowed them to share contact information of emergency resources, such as first responder information, shelters, and childcare facilities.

The class was split into two days of instruction. On the first day, the class focused on types of disasters, normal reactions from survivors, and how to help people through their grief. The second day of training was more interactive, with the community leaders filling out detailed worksheets, listing their disaster response procedures.

One of the benefits of the course was an opportunity to identify resources needed to respond to emergencies.

“What this class does is start the dialogue between the barangay officials, chairmen and social workers for further coordination efforts. We are honored to assist with this process so that the people of Zamboanga City will be better prepared to respond to a crisis,” said Gould.

AFP and JSOTF-P have continued to expand on this training, having first offered this type of class to health care providers at Camp Navarro General Hospital last month. On Dec. 7, the team taught similar classes to instructors at Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology.

“The classes are very good and the people here will now be better equipped to respond to a disaster or calamity in the future,” said Capt. Pablito F. Melcher, a member of the Western Mindanao Command’s Chaplain Services.

Friday, December 4, 2009

AFP and JSOTF-P Unveil Shrine and Conduct MEDCAP

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

SULU, Philippines-Hundreds of residents of Barangay (community) Danag now have a restored shrine and access to free medical care due to the collaborative efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Marine Battalion Landing Team-5 (MBLT-5), Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), and local residents who partnered for both projects in the region Nov. 28.

Restoration of the stone shrine is a tribute to AFP Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista and his 34 men who were killed Oct. 10, 1977 in the Patikul municipality while attempting to conduct peace talks with Usman Sali. Sali, at the time, was said to be the most powerful leader in the Sulu province.

Patikul residents-along with members of MBLT-5-put up the fencing, procured the supplies and worked non-stop for weeks to have the project completed in time for the dedication ceremony. JSOTF-P members advised on the construction of the shrine, which began last October.

In attendance at the event were Barangay Capt. Hji Bari Ukang, Patikul Mayor Kabir E. Hayudini, MBLT-5 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Ferdinand M. Fraginal, and Brig. Gen. Celestino C. Pereyra, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade.

At the ceremony, Mayor Hayudini spoke about the significance of the shrine for the people of Sulu.

“This shrine is a reminder to the people here to remember the sacrifice of Brig. Gen. Bautista in the name of peace and to inspire the people to work towards peace in the region,” said Hayudini.

After the brief dedication, residents received a variety of medical treatments at nearby Danag Elementary School during a Medical Civic Action Project (MEDCAP). Medical personal from JSOTF-P’s Forward Surgical Team (FST) assisted the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO), census volunteers, AFP medical staff and other volunteers. Additionally, JSOTF-P donated seven boxes of prescription medications.

Throughout the day, more than 200 patients received check-ups, prescriptions, toiletries, and ten residents received tooth extractions. JSOTF-P’s Lt. Col. Arnold Stocker, a nurse anesthetist assigned to the FST, performed the dental care.

“The heath care we received today is good because it helps so many of us. We really can’t afford these treatments and it builds good relationships with the community,” said Hinjug Idris, a resident of the barangay.

While waiting for services, civil affairs teams from the AFP and JSOTF-P played games with the children, such as sock hops, races and other activities.

“Today’s event went exceptionally well. We were merely here to assist the AFP. MBLT-5 did a great job putting this together,” said JSOTF-P servicemember Army Capt. Matt Quinn, a member of Civil Affairs Team 732.

Towards the end of the MEDCAP, doctors identified a nine-year-old female patient suffering from tuberculosis, having gone untreated for the last seven months. Due to a screening from the IPHO, she now has an appointment at the Sulu Provincial hospital for further testing and treatment.

We hope that we can have more of these types of projects. They are instrumental in building trust and hope among the people. They can help minimize poverty and lessen the chances of the people here supporting lawless elements,” said Hayudini.

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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

AFP and JSOTF-P Bring Smiles to Children’s Fun Day

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

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Members from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, in coordination with the chaplain teams at Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command, celebrated the first Children’s Fun Day Oct. 29.

With help from the combined chaplain teams of the AFP and JSOTF-P, more than 450 children and adults took part in the festivities. Children of AFP service members and other government contractors spent the afternoon playing games such as duck-duck-goose, tug-of-war, football, and soccer.

“I had such a wonderful time playing with the children today,” said Master Sgt. Rose Gould, the chaplain assistant for JSOTF-P. “Their smiles brought me incredible amounts of joy and I was honored to help organize such an important event. I could tell that it meant a lot to these kids to have this time together,” she said.

The children’s fun day was an opportunity for JSOTF-P to demonstrate one of the Task Force’s primary roles, which is capacity building. The event was a joint project, planned by not only JSOTF-P, but the chaplains from WESTMINCOM and Naval Forces Western Mindanao.

“While it was a joy to see the children and their parents so happy and so thankful for the special day we provided for them, it continues to be especially gratifying to me to work with the dedicated, caring AFP chaplains stationed at WESTMINCOM,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Steven E. Thompson, the JSOTF-P chaplain.

The day was also a break from the children’s classes, as most came from nearby schools such as Immaculate Conception School and SouthCom Village Elementary School.

The celebration concluded with the singing of the Philippine National Anthem and afterwards, all of the children stayed behind to clean up the parade field.

“Our hope is that through this day of fun we can build relationships. This will help tell the children about God’s love and build unity in our military community,” said Capt. Carlito Buslon, the WESTMINCOM chaplain.

Friday, October 30, 2009

RP Agriculture Department, JSOTF-P sign agreement

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

DAVAO, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture and the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines signed an agreement to share information and work together to improve agriculture-related, economic opportunities in Mindanao at a ceremony Oct 29.

Department of Agriculture Regional Executive Director Dr. Carlos Mendoza and Col. William Coultrup, JSOTF-P commander, signed the Administrative Procedural Agreement (APA).

“This agreement formalizes a relationship developed over several months between representatives of the Department of Agriculture and JSOTF-P civil affairs teams,” said Coultrup.

“Both organizations and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are working together to create agriculture-related economic opportunities. By offering profitable livelihoods, we hope to reduce poverty and create a more prosperous and peaceful environment in conflicted areas,” he said.

The APA commits the Department of Agriculture and JSOTF-P to share information and support each other’s efforts on humanitarian and civic action projects. Both organizations work in at-risk communities and can nominate communities for projects in poor or non-existent agricultural areas.

Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, commander of AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, presided over the ceremony held at Camp Panacan. Ferrer commented that this agreement is the first of its kind between JSOTF-P and a Philippine government organization and he expressed his appreciation for the cooperation of the two agencies.

“The Eastern Mindanao Command is grateful to both JSOTF-P and the Department of Agriculture-Mindanao Cluster. The APA on information sharing is a first for JSOTF-P and a Philippine government agency,” Ferrer said.

Two projects to establish fish ponds in Munai, Lanao del Notre and in Dato Piang, Maguindanao are in the planning phase as a result of this cooperation. The ponds were coordinated with the assistance of the JSOTF-P and the AFP, with funding from the DA and local government units.

These programs offer the people profitable livelihoods, which reduces poverty, and creates a more prosperous and peaceful environment in conflict-affected areas.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

3rd Civil Military Operations Company, JSOTF-P hold Zamboanga MEDCAPS

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

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 3rd Civil Military Operations Company teamed up with the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines to conduct three Medical Civic Action Projects (MEDCAPs), providing medical and dental care to more than 1,300 patients Oct. 27-29.

The three events were held in the barangays (communities) of Campo Islam, (Oct 27), Baliwasan (Oct 28) and Santa Barbara (Oct 29).

“Being able to be part of this event was fantastic. It’s a pretty big feeling of pride to do what we’re doing here,” said Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st class Mike Davis.

The staff of the 3rd CMOC and their students attending SALA’AM Operators Course Class 07-09 organized the MEDCAPs as a training exercise, providing hands-on experience for those attending the course.

Following graduation, the students will be assigned to units where they will be organizing and conducting similar events.In addition to the 3rd CMOC and JSOTF-P, several other military and community organizations contributed medical supplies, food, clothing and personnel to support the event. Some of those organizations include: Western Mindanao Command, Marine Forces South, Camp Navarro General Hospital, the National Food Authority, Department of Health, Zamboanga City Health Office, The Department of Social Works and Development and the Coca-Cola Bottlers, Philippines Incorporated.

“I want the students to learn how to assist and win the support of the people in the communities where they will be assigned,” said Capt. Jomar Daquioag, commander of the 3rd CMOC. “We want the people in the barangays to understand the government is here to help improve their communities,” he said.

Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jeremy West participated in the first two events at Campo Islam and Baliwasan. West estimated he treated about 100 patients each day for ailments from coughs and skin problems to numerous patients with high blood pressure and diabetes.

“It is definitely a rewarding experience to be able to help these people,” he said.

Maj. Matt Marbella, Civil Affairs Company Commander for JSOTF-P was also proud to be part of the event.

“It was pleasures seeing the SALA’AM Company improve each day,” said Marbella. “We’re thankful they included us as part of their events. We wish them the best of luck and look forward to working with them in the field.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

AFP Seabees, JSOTF-P Celebrate New Road Construction Project

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

BASILAN, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in partnership with Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines, celebrated the construction of the Tipo-Tipo-Sungkayot-Matata road during a ground-breaking ceremony Oct. 28.

The project is part of a collaborative relationship, combining resources from several military services, including the AFP’s National Development Support Command, First General Construction Company and JSOTF-P.

“I am so happy that this road will be rehabilitated and am grateful for the support of the Filipino and U.S. forces. We can now move our products closer to the shoreline and this will bring hope to this area,” said Hassim Jawil, a local resident.

Although JSOTF-P has partnered with AFP on a number of construction projects, this is first time JSOTF-P is providing the supplies for a road project with the AFP Navy Seabees doing the labor. Once completed, the road will connect the municipalities of Sumisip, Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan. The two previous projects were school constructions; also located in Sumisip.

“It’s great to work together with the AFP to bring development, goods and access to this area,” said U.S. Army Capt. Charlie Claypool, a JSOTF-P servicemember from Civil Affairs Team 734.

Last August, members of AFP’s Army’s 3rd Light Reaction Company, 61st Force Reconnaissance Company, Force Reconnaissance Battalion, Special Operations Platoon 10 and Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 reclaimed the area surrounding the road from the Abu Sayyaf Group and other militant organizations, paving the way for future development rojects.

Previously, residents were driven out of their homes and forced to move further north due to ASG and other terrorist entities, which set up training camps in the area.

Once built, the road will bring new infrastructure into the southwest region of Basilan and extend down to the coastline area for nine kilometers (5.58 miles). Checkpoints are planned throughout the road, provided by AFP Marines, allowing locals ease of mobility to safely relocate and move products and services. Additionally, the road will permit greater access for the AFP to counter terrorist activities.

With Hon. Jum J. Akbar, governor Basilan province, and Rear Adm. Alexander P. Pama, commander of Naval Forces Western Mindanao, as guests of honor the celebration began with brief remarks from Pama, Akbar and the mayors of Tipo-Tipo and Sumisip.

“The strategic importance of this road cannot be over-emphasized,” said Pama. “This is not the first time that our forces and U.S. forces have worked together for humanitarian and engineering projects. We thank our brothers from the U.S. Armed Forces,” he said.

Hon. Ingatun Lukman G. Istaru, mayor of Tipo-Tipo, spoke of the problems in the area specifically that schools were previously only located along the main highway, denying those without access to the roads education and opportunities.

“The ASG is not born out of ideology, but frustration. When there are good roads, there are also good people,” said Istaru.

After the guest’s remarks, Akbar and Pama reviewed the maps and blueprints of the road project and then placed them into a plastic capsule, burying them in front of the new road sign, marking the beginning of the road.

“It is traditional custom for [AFP Seabees] to place the maps and blueprint into the ground before starting any construction project,” said 2nd Lt. Beryl Charity T. Bacolol, an AFP Marine officer.

Bacolol also spoke of the significance of the road for the AFP

“This road will enable us to do our operations and give us faster recovery of our wounded if something should happen,” she said.

Immediately after the celebration, AFP Seabees started working on the road, symbolizing a new chapter of infrastructure projects which promises to bring to the community peace and prosperity.

“We are just so happy the militaries here are supporting the civilians in our area for the sake of our businesses and cultural plans throughout the Basilan region,” said Basad Iklaman, a resident of the Barangay (community) of Sundkat.