News: Communities show support to multinational forces as exercise Cobra Gold 2013 begins
Story by Lance Cpl. Jose Lujano
PHITSANULOK, Thailand - “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” These words, once spoken by 19th-century poet Henrik Ibsen, are a way of life for the people of the Kingdom of Thailand. Thai citizens are taking an active role supporting multinational forces building five schools during ongoing engineering civic assistance projects during exercise Cobra Gold 2013.
Cobra Gold, in its 32nd iteration, is a multinational exercise that promotes regional prosperity, security and cooperation among partner militaries.
“It is critical to building our multinational coordination,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, during the opening ceremony in Chiang Mai province, Thailand, Feb.11. “Our interoperability with all our partners in the region allows us to collectively be able to respond to crises and to protect the peace and prosperity of all of our people.”
A week before the commencement of the exercise, local residents started coming to the construction sites to offer assistance, according to Royal Thai soldier Col. Saniroj Thumayos, the planning officer for the combined joint civil military operations task force. The effort quickly had a snowball effect, drawing more and more people to help.
Usually it takes the community longer to engage with the service members, added Saniroj. In the past, community involvement would not gain momentum until after the official start of the exercise.
“I have worked with CJCMOTF during five Cobra Gold exercises, and every time I see the community getting involved sooner to help the service members,” said Saniroj. “It is great seeing the community support this year with community workforces helping earlier than usual to complete a mission that will benefit our country’s future.”
Every day, dozens of community residents assemble at the schools to offer assistance. They see their efforts as an investment in their children’s education, explained Thai local resident Somjai Chantakoon, the assistant chief of Kuat Na Man Village, Chat Trakarn District, Phitsanulok province.
Residents feel educational opportunities are lacking for many of Thailand’s rural children, and they want to be part of the solution.
“This school is very far from the city and has fewer resources compared to what is available in cities,” said Chantakoon. “The residents of the district are very thankful for the work the service members have done; therefore, we demonstrate our gratitude by coming out and showing support with the same labor and more.”
In this region, Thai people are one nation, according to Thai community member Somchai Intang, the principal of Ban Kao Rai Sriracha School, Wat Bot District, Phitsanulok province. Therefore, the community is proud to be actively engaged in improving their quality of life.
“We may not be rich, but we own one thing— heart,” said Intang. “As we all come together, we can all pitch-in and provide at least a lunch meal for the militaries working on the prosperity of our community.”
Their homes may be far apart from one another, but the people are all united by their love for the community. And the residents are sharing their compassion with the service members.
“The service members are treated like nothing less than family,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. Trumaine R. Holmes, a combat engineer with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “It is amazing to know that we are having a positive impact for them and their community.”
Holmes acknowledges that he and the other U.S. Marines have learned and received just as much from the Thai people.
“The things I have witnessed here … compassion, laughter, teamwork, understanding … people are coming together every day to simply make the world a better place … one school at a time.” said Holmes.
The most important aspect of the project is having a positive impact on the children, according to Holmes. The children are eager to begin classes in the new building.
“I want to trade my building for the new one,” said Petlada Boonmee, a 10-year-old Thai student. “We will have a new place to learn – hopefully English.”
By showing up to help, the volunteers send a clear message to Petlada about her education. She feels they are telling her how much they care about her opportunity to learn.
As service members and residents worked side-by-side laying cement blocks, they realize they’re also cementing their relationship.
“That mission did not need strength, endurance, materials and tools, it just needed a group of people who cared,” said Saniroj.
This building signifies opportunity, work, and everlasting memories of the family relationship built between the service members and the community.
“This is a great opportunity for the people of Thailand and multinational forces to come together and provide support to our community — our home,” said Saniroj.
This work, Communities show support to multinational forces as exercise Cobra Gold 2013 begins, by Cpl Jose Lujano, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.