Search JSOTF-P Blog

Saturday, June 27, 2009

AFP, JSOTF-P deliver books, school supplies to Mindanao students

By Petty Officer 1st Class Fletcher Gibson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs

COTABATO, Republic of the Philippines -- If it takes a village to raise a child, then raising an entire village of children calls for reinforcements. At least that’s the philosophy being adopted by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in central Mindanao.

Partnering with the United States Agency for International Development and a small California-based NGO called Books for the Barrios, JSOTF-P and the AFP are on an educational mission to deliver donated books and teaching supplies to needy schools in central Mindanao.

Books for Barrios has sent dozens of boxes of books and other reading materials while USAID has provided JSOTF-P with “science kits” to distribute to students ranging from elementary to high school. Together JSOTF-P and the AFP have delivered books and supplies to seven different schools over the last week impacting more than 1,000 students in conflict-affected areas.
“The AFP has been working to identify needy schools,” said Lt. Rogelio Dumbrigue, the civil-military operations chief for the Philippine Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion. “Different schools could be needy for different reasons.”
Recipient schools range from remote elementary schools with limited access to educational supplies to municipal high schools which have lost books due to natural disasters.
“Our school was flooded last year,” said Bai Isradean Sinsuat-Datukan, the principal of Notre Dame Village High School in Cotabato. “We lost about 2,000 books.”

Notre Dame Village received six boxes of books from Books for the Barrios, including a number of science text books, National Geographic magazines, and English-language novels.
“These books are all donated from children back in the U.S.,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Willie Battle, one of the JSOTF-P team members who have been delivering the books. “The things they’ll learn from these books are the exact same things the kids back in America are learning.”
Lamapog Elementary School in Midsayap was on the receiving end of one of USAID’s science kits which consist of several containers with grade-appropriate workbooks, teaching guides, and lab equipment. According to Capt. Janette Kautzman, team leader for Civil Affairs Team 735, the science kits were a welcome addition at Lamapog, particularly for the children in grades 1-3 who wouldn’t normally be exposed to science until grade 4.
As a result of fighting between government security forces and lawless elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the students and teachers of Lamapog Elementary had to evacuate their primary school building and relocate to a temporary structure, essentially an open air shelter that doesn’t even have walls. In spite of the difficult conditions, the students and teachers of Lamapog were grateful for the educational supplies.

“When we delivered the science kits, that afternoon there were so many messages of thanks from the school,” Dumbringue said.
According to Capt. Kautzman, the response from the schools has been very positive. She also noted that National Geographic magazines containing maps were one of the most popular items with the students.

Friday, June 26, 2009

AFP, JSOTF-P Turn Over Education, Livelihood Projects and Distribute Relief Packages to Sulu Communities

By Lieutenant Lara Bollinger
Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines

Students from Bato-Bato Elementary School, Indanan North District, Jolo read books that were donated by Books for the Barrios in the newly-built library immediately after the turn-over ceremony of the school library June 22. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class William H. Ramsey/Released)

JOLO, Republic of the Philippines – Officials from Armed Forces of the Philippines and Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines joined representatives from international Non-Governmental Organizations to turn over four projects and distribute packages of clothing and school supplies to the residents of Kagay, Bato-Bato and neighboring barangays in Indanan, Jolo, June 22.

AFP and U.S. service members were present with senior representatives from Knightsbridge International and Republic of the Philippines – United Nations White Helmets Commission at the ribbon cutting turn-over ceremonies for the Bato-Bato Elementary School library, and a reconstructed madrasah, coconut tapahan and barangay hall in Kagay. In a separate ceremony, 200 school children received school supplies and 90 families received bags of clothing that had been donated by Knightsbridge International and RP- UN White Helmets Commission.

The construction projects were planned, funded and managed by the AFP and JSOTF-P. Local workers were hired to perform the work. These newly turned-over projects will enhance the welfare, livelihood education of the people of Bato-Bato and Kagay. The projects are a sign of the mutual commitment of the AFP and JSOTF-P to carry out humanitarian projects that help the people of Sulu, despite recent fighting between the AFP and ASG.

Even as these projects were turned over, US Navy SEABEES continue construction of a new four-classroom school in Kagay, slated for completion in September 2009.

A coconut tapahan (smoker platform) that was turned over to the community of Kagay, Indanan, Jolo, June 22. This tapahan was constructed by Armed Forces of the Philippines , JTF Comet and Marine Battalion Landing Team Six (MBLT-6), US Joint Special Operation Task Force-Philippines LCE 1122A (U.S. Navy photo by Lieutenant Lara R. Bollinger/Released)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

AFP, JSOTF-P EOD teams destroy 2,500 kilograms of old, unusable explosives

By Petty Officer 1st Class Fletcher Gibson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Republic of the Philippines -- An earth-shaking explosion rocked the farming region outside General Santos City June 24 as explosive ordnance disposal technicians from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines safely detonated nearly 2,500 kilograms of confiscated explosives and unearthed relics of war.

The detonation was one of several held recently at the request of the AFP to help dispose of unexploded ordnance from past conflicts.

“We’re still discovering ammunition from World War II,” said 1st Lt. Joanne Villareiz, the team leader of the AFP’s 72nd EOD team. “They’re corroded but still dangerous.”

The 60-year-old relics in this case were two 100-kilogram bombs found by the Philippine National Police. The munitions had become so corroded that they could only be identified by looking up their measurements in the EOD team’s reference guides. This identification was an important first step in planning the operation because knowing the specifications of a piece of ordnance tells the team how much force is required to destroy it.

In addition to the two bombs, nearly 2,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, a common chemical which forms the basis for homemade explosives, was confiscated from Jolo. Although not as dangerous when unmixed, concern for the environment prompted its destruction in the ordnance detonation.

“Ammonium nitrate is a marine pollutant,” said U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Petty Officer 1st Class Bryan Bates, the EOD team leader for JSOTF-P’s Task Force Archipelago, “that’s why it just can’t be dumped it into the sea or let it soak into the ground.”

The operation also gave the EOD teams from both militaries, as well as their bomb squad counterparts from the Philippine National Police, a chance to train together on bomb handling and disposal. Representatives from each group got hands-on practice with identifying different types of explosives as well as working with actual detonation equipment.

“We were able to share with them our experiences with the IEDs we’ve encountered here and they’ve taught us about possible IEDs we have not encountered, but that the U.S. has seen in other countries,” said Villareiz.

“We really focused on tactics training, teaching them the fundamentals of safety,” added U.S. Navy Ens. Deward Cummings III, the assistant EOD task unit commander for JSOTF-P.

The detonation of unsafe ordnance is a growing mission for the AFP EOD teams. Previous detonations have disposed of smaller amounts of ordnance, but July will see a larger operation as the teams coordinate again to detonate more than 13,000 kilograms of confiscated and unsafe explosives.

Monday, June 15, 2009

JSOTF-P, Philippine military rebuilding schools burned by Abu Sayyaf Group

Petty Officer 1st Class Fletcher Gibson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs

SUMISIP, Basilan -- The Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is partnering with Philippine Navy SEABEES to rebuild two schools in Central Sumisip on the island of Basilan that were burned to the ground by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in late March.

Members of the ASG torched Erelley and Sitio Obal Elementary Schools March 28, 2009, reportedly in retaliation for the town’s past cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The reconstruction is a joint effort between JSOTF-P, the AFP’s National Development Support Command and the Philippine Navy’s Mobile Construction Battalion 1. The three organizations worked together to assess the proposed project and develop plans, with JSOTF-P providing the funding and materials to back the AFP’s construction efforts.

“There was extensive fire damage,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Leonard Schilling, the senior engineer for JSOTF-P. “The schools need significant repair. We’re glad to be able to support this project to ensure the children in Sumisip can get a good education.”

The NDSC estimates the construction will take about 10-12 weeks to complete. In the meantime, the construction battalion has built a temporary shelter for the two schools’ nearly 600 students and teachers to meet.

As school construction progresses, the U.S. civil affairs team leader on Basilan said that it’s the children who are paying the biggest price for ASG’s actions.

“It’s inconceivable what the ASG could hope to gain by burning down schools,” said U.S. Army Capt. Charlie Claypool, the officer in charge of JSOTF-P’s Civil Affairs Team 734, which works alongside the AFP to conduct civil-military operations on Basilan. “There is no ideology – political, religious or otherwise that could justify it and nothing to be gained except for further alienating the population.”

Claypool said that he’s been pleased with the level of cooperation between the AFP and the local government to make this project a reality. While the AFP refurbishes the buildings, he said the local mayor has begun planning for a project to level the roads leading to Sumisip, which are showing extensive rutting from rain and heavy use.

Once the new schools are up and running, the students will be set up for success thanks to the United States Agency for International Development, which is donating desks and textbooks to both schools.

At the invitation of the Philippine government, JSOTF-P supports the Philippine Armed Forces in defeating terrorist groups such as Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiya in the southern Philippines and in preventing these groups from establishing safe havens from which to train other terrorists.

JSOTF-P carries out this mission by sharing information, conducting tactical training programs with the AFP, and by supporting a wide range of civil military operations, including medical and engineering projects that benefit local populations.

In 2008 alone, the AFP-U.S. partnership completed more than 70 infrastructure projects across the Southern Philippines, including new schools, roads, piers, water wells, and medical centers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

AFP-JSOTF-P Deliver Medical Assistance to Filipino WWII Veterans

By Lieutenant Lara Bollinger
Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines

A nurse from the Armed Forces of the Philippines gives a cane to a Filipino veteran who fought alongside U.S. troops during World War II at a Medical Civic Action Program Saturday at Camp Bautista. This MEDCAP for WWII veterans and their families was jointly hosted by U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines and AFP medical personnel. Various organizations, including the Special Forces Association, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion donated medicine and equipment for the event. (U.S. Navy photo by Lieutenant Lara R. Bollinger/Released)

JOLO, Republic of the Philippines – World War II veterans and their families gathered at Camp Bautista Saturday to receive medical assistance and medications at a Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) hosted together by the U.S. Joint Special Operation Task Force – Philippines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

U.S. and AFP medical personnel treated more than 20 World War II veterans and 150 family members during the event. They also distributed nearly P75,000 worth of medications, prescription eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs and canes provided by JSOTF-P and various U.S. charitable veterans’ organizations.

“These Philippine citizens fought together with U.S. forces during World War II,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Wilkerson, senior Special Forces combat medic and liaison between AFP and U.S. medical personnel. “This MEDCAP is special because we’re treating people that assisted us years ago. So this is our opportunity to give them help in return."

The MEDCAP is another in a series of efforts to honor the sacrifices of Filipino World War II veterans. The recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by the U.S. Congress in February, provides funds to compensate Philippine soldiers who served side-by-side with the U.S. military during World War II. Members of JSOTF-P recently reached out to Filipino World War II veterans around Jolo City in Sulu Province to assist them in claiming war service compensation.

Saliladja J. Iribani, District Commander for Sulu Veterans’ District Regiment Four, was pleased to be receiving such assistance from the U.S. “We are very happy that the U.S. is here entertaining us, helping us, since we were allied during World War II,” the 83-year-old veteran said. Iribani joined the guerilla forces in the Philippines when he was just 18 years old.

Another veteran, Timbasal M. Abduhalim, Post Commander for Sulu Veterans District Regiment Four, was awarded a Bronze Star by the U.S. Government on July 20, 1960 – more than 15 years after his service during WWII – for Meritorious Achievement in ground operations against the enemy. He is now 93.

“We were fighting side by side with the Americans, and I’m happy that the United States has requested that we be here today,” Abduhalim said.

“All these veterans enjoy the fact that people still think about them,” Wilkerson said. “Jolo is a long way away from anything, so a bunch of the VA benefits are hard for them to get. When we come down and bring it to them, they are very appreciative.”

The organizations that donated the supplies for this MEDCAP are located in Angeles City, Pampanga. They include the Special Forces Association, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.