News: Thai students bring smiles to US service members
Story by Lance Cpl. Jose Lujano
PHITSANULOK, Kingdom of Thailand - U.S. service members participating in exercise Cobra Gold 2013 visited students at the Phitsanulok Panyanukul School in Phitsanulok province, Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 14 during a community relations event.
Both U.S. Marines and sailors assigned to the Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force accompanied by U.S. Army soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division out of Camp Casey, Republic of Korea, relished the opportunity to visit the children.
“The event included six stages containing different activities,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Kevan Q. Lim, a chaplain and coordinator of the visit. “The activities included soccer, dancing, foot races, musical chairs, a sign-language class and duck-duck-goose games.”
This was the first time U.S. service members had visited the school of approximately 300 special-needs students, according to Methee Wongkrut, the assistant principal of the school.
He also added that the school specializes in basic education for the students, most of whom have mental or auditory disabilities. The students range in age from 6 to 22. The school’s vision is to teach the children kindness, morals and work-related skills so when they are ready they can live happily and independently.
“What better way to show the kids that the world is kind, compassionate and loving than to experience it by participating in a variety of joyful activities with U.S. service members,” said Wongkrut.
Service member also saw evidence of that same kindness and joy while interacting with the Panyanukul students.
“I saw the children respond immediately to our excitement,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rennie Rambally, an electronic warfare specialist with 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.
“By the looks of the children…I saw overpowering amounts of happiness and eagerness to play with us,” said Rambally. “The children made it clear the direct impact we were having, especially when you are in an environment filled with smiles and laughter.”
Rambally has a close connection to the conditions affecting the students at the Panyanukul School.
“I can relate because my 5-year-old daughter is mentally challenged as well,” said Rambally. “It brings me recollections of her joy when I see similar smiles on the students’ faces here today.”
One of those students, 14-year-old Suwakul Jitsopa, expressed her appreciation at the conclusion of the day’s events saying, “Thank you to all the U.S. military for coming to our school. I may have challenges, but that never stopped the Americans from treating me equal.”
“If the world treated each other like U.S. service members treated us at this event, there would be no reason for militaries,” Jitsopa said.
Exercise Cobra Gold is the largest multinational exercise in the Asia-Pacific region and provides the opportunity to further develop greater military interoperability, relationships and capability in solving regional challenges.