News: AFP, Army build footbridge, increase Tapauc safety
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Fahey
TAPAUC, Philippines - A combined U.S-Philippine team of Army engineers broke ground on a new footbridge that will allow residents of Masinloc Municipality’s Tapauc area to safely cross a wide stream and more easily transport their crops.
According to Masinloc’s Vice Mayor Jeff Bautista, local residents often feared for their children’s safety and he remembers a time when makeshift survivor rafts were the only form of transportation.
“The children used to ride a bamboo raft that would barely float across the river. It was very dangerous. This new footbridge will help a lot of children who need to get back and forth from school,” said Bautista. “On behalf of the entire community, thank you very much.”
The new footbridge’s design is based on an existing program used by Virginia Tech University called Bridges to Prosperity. The program’s goal is to provide cost effective methods for building small bridges in remote areas with limited resources. The U.S. adapted this curriculum and built a smaller mock-up of the Tapauc footbridge at a training site in Hawaii. In addition, the U.S. engineers conducted an intense virtual training program that better prepared them for their current task.
The design will create a safer, near-level surface made of wood planks with chain-link fence walls. With cable strung through hardened stanchions anchored in concrete, the bridge can sustain much larger weight loads than the existing footbridge. Its three-foot tread surface will also stand high above the water during the rainy season.
“For the last two years, the water during the rainy season has come up to the very bottom of the existing bridge,” said Tapauc resident Lea Galano. “It’s right there at bridge height and very scary. We take our shoes off, so we don’t slip and are constantly worried about our children who cross the bridge at least twice each day to go to school.”
Galona says she will also be able to transport at least twice her usual load of crops to the villages market, and the increased safety of the bridge will dramatically reduce the level of worry shared among the parents.
“It’s great to see the safety of our children being taken so seriously,” Galona added.
The combined U.S. and Philippine team met for the first time a few days prior to the groundbreaking. Excited to get started, the two units began sharing construction ideas.
“This is a big learning experience for my unit and my first time ever working with Americans,” said Philippine Army officer-in-charge 1st Lt. Lumerey Tolentino of the 522nd Engineering Construction Battalion. “For the community, this is big. Instead of carrying one sack of rice at a time over an unpredictable structure, they will be able to drive dozens of bags over a secure path. You can imagine how this changes things for them.”
The skills traded between the team of engineers will increase the two countries’ interoperability during a real-world disaster or humanitarian aid project.
“Balikatan provides an opportunity to trade ideas, work as a single unit and plan in advance,” said Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force Commander Navy Capt. Rod Moore. “The more time we spend planning now means less time planning if a natural disaster or other event brings us together in the future.”
The Tapauc footbridge is one of eight engineering civic action program (ENCAP) missions being performed by JCMOTF units in support of exercise Balikatan 2013.
Balikatan is an annual Republic of the Philippines –U.S. military bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement.