CAMP EMILIO AGUINALDO, Philippines – Filipino and American troops reaffirmed decades of friendship and cooperation while aspiring toward a future of greater collaboration April 17 during the closing ceremony of exercise Balikatan 2013.
In an increasingly complex world in which threats continue to challenge the interests of the long time allies, senior leaders from the U.S. military and the Armed Forces of the Philippines gathered on this urban military installation to praise the efforts of the approximately 6,800 troops who participated in the exercise.
“I can confidently state that the shoulder-to-shoulder spirit of Balikatan is stronger than ever. The cooperation, determination and professionalism of our men and women training so vigorously together over the past few weeks have made Balikatan a tremendous success,” said U.S. exercise director, U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. “We stand ready in solidarity to face tomorrow’s challenges.”
Robling noted the especially historic nature China’s fist ever involvement in exercise Balikatan. Several key Asian Pacific countries had long participated as observers in the exercise, but China’s presence at the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief tabletop exercise portends a new era for exercise.
Nevertheless, Robling focused primarily on the strategic relationship between the U.S. and this island nation of 95 million people.
“Moving forward, we do so confident in the enduring strength of our alliance and the relationship between our peoples,” Robling said.
Filipino Army Maj. Gen. Virgilio Domingo, the commandant of the Command and General Staff Course and the Philippine exercise director, echoed Robling’s sentiments.
“We can look back with pride and celebrate what we have yet again accomplished as allies and friends,” Domingo said. “We have proven how technically we can work should-to-shoulder to achieve our common objectives. We have certainly raised the bar in terms of interoperability and operational readiness.”
In its 29th iteration, exercise Balikatan in the largest regularly scheduled exercise between the two World War II allies. The exercise focuses on strengthening interoperability between the two nations as well as ensuring capability to respond to humanitarian disasters. The official opening ceremony was held on April 5, but troops from both countries had been working for weeks in preparation for the three parts of the exercise.
Zambales province, north of the capital city of Manila, was the site of a host of humanitarian civic assistance projects. Troops in that region focused on medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action projects.
The U.S. spent just shy of $400,000 on seven projects in Zambales. Approximately 236 engineers trained for 33 days during the projects that totaled more than 7,800 man-days of construction work.
Twelve-thousand Filipinos are estimated to benefit from these projects.
Highlights of their accomplishments include:
• Tapauc Foot Bridge: Construction of a 60-meter suspension foot bridge, including river bank stabilization and drainage improvements and culvert installation.
• Mangahhan Community Center: New building for community center as well as the renovation of a health clinic. Drainage improvements and construction of one new 12,000 gallon (45,000 liter) ferro-cement water cistern
• Omaya Elementary School: New insulated panel building for two new classrooms as well as the reenovation of three existing classrooms. Access road improvements were also accomplished.
• San Pasqual Foot Bridge: Construction of a 57-meter suspension foot bridge.
• Rabanes Elementary School: Renovation of four classrooms, construction of a new restroom as well as installation of one new 10,000 liter rainwater harvesting system and extensive site improvements.
• So Lawen Elementary School: New insulated panel building for two new classrooms. Massive drainage system constructed and river bank stabilization.
• Looc Ferro-Cement Cistern. Construction of one new 12,000 gallon ferro-cement water cistern.
Meanwhile, a command post exercise was held at Camp O’Donnell that included combined and joint training for a typhoon-based humanitarian assistance/disaster relief response.
Field training exercises, which included a host of U.S. Marine Corps assets to include the MV-22 Osprey, F/A-18 fighter jets and Amphibious Assault Vehicles, tested the mettle of the combined teams working in temperatures that regularly topped 100 degrees. U.S. service members shared tactics, techniques and procedures in a host of military scenarios throughout the field exercises.
Their Filipino counterparts, meanwhile, shared their expertise in jungle warfare, which included a highly publicized capture and consumption of a wild jungle lizard. Before the scorching sun rose and during its descent, U.S. Marines reveled in the opportunity to learn Filipino martial arts from expert AFP instructors.
“The exercises may have been exhausting…, but I believe we have learned many things that will benefit our respective defense forces,” said AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista.