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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.