News: Soccer matches provide opportunities for Thai, U.S. service members to strengthen relationships
Story by Lance Cpl. Jose Lujano
PHITSANULOK, Thailand - Construction is an arduous task. Early days filled with demanding physical activity and extreme temperatures can leave one feeling exhausted, anxious for the workday to end, and eager to settle into a much more relaxed activity.
As quitting time draws near for Thai and U.S. service members building a new structure for the Ban Kuad Nam Man School in the Chat Trakarn District in the Phitsanulok province, Kingdom of Thailand, they anticipate the moment they will finally trade in their boots and camouflage utility uniforms for athletic shoes, shorts, T-shirts and a soccer field.
Evening soccer matches involving Thai soldiers with 302nd Engineer Battalion, Royal Thai Army and U.S. Marines with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force have become routine at the school where the new building is being constructed. Similar structures are being built at four other schools as part of ongoing engineering civic assistance projects part of exercise Cobra Gold 2013.
While the exercise officially begins Feb. 11, service members have already begun construction to ensure the buildings are complete before the exercise concludes Feb. 21. The exercise is a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored multinational, multiservice exercise that includes forces from Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and observers from other countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The time on the soccer field increases the service members’ communication abilities and strengthens their relationships. As service members wrap up the day’s work and receive any last-minute instructions for the next day, they make their way to the field.
“The game begins with a few service members passing the ball,” said Sgt. Peeraphan Kamyan, a survey chief with the 302nd Engineer Battalion, Royal Thai Army. “Finally, when everyone is done working, we are able to play an integrated scrimmage.”
Cobra Gold, in its 32nd iteration, promotes regional prosperity and security and cooperation among partner militaries. Service members taking part in the exercise relish the relationship-building opportunities and are making the most of their time together. “The day does not consist of work alone, but getting to know our Thai counterparts not only as service members, but as friends,” said Cpl. Michael H. Alfaro, a combat engineer with 9th ESB. “Playing soccer together absolutely helps us perform during work and it enriches our relationships.”
The soccer field is where the service members join together to participate in a different form of teamwork, and while verbal communication is difficult to understand; soccer fundamentals are easily understood, according to Alfaro.
As every second passed, the language and cultural barriers between the service members diminished.
“If it was up to verbal communication, it would be much more difficult to communicate,” said Master Sgt. 3rd Class Peerasak Sandsira, a welder with 302nd Engineer Battalion, Royal Thai Army. “Good thing we do not rely on just our language.”
Passing and scoring becomes easier with each game and brings the service members closer, according to Kamyan.
While deployed, home can seem distant for service members. However, interaction with their Thai friends on the soccer field provides service members with a familiar sense of home.
“When I spend quality time — playing soccer — with my Thai buddies it feels like I am with friends back home,” said Alfaro. “This brings tranquility to my soul because I did not know what to expect when coming to the Kingdom of Thailand.”
As they walk off the field together, the game’s outcome does not matter, they know the simple game of soccer creates a greater bond and increases the enjoyment of their future experiences together.
“Our brotherhood is building rapidly,” said Alfaro. “Our work flow and progress is a reflection of our unity.”
Exercise Cobra Gold is the largest multinational exercise in the Asia-Pacific region and provides the Kingdom of Thailand, United States, Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia an opportunity to develop closer relationships and enhance interoperability.
This work, Soccer matches provide opportunities for Thai, U.S. service members to strengthen relationships, by Cpl Jose Lujano, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.