News: Service members from Okinawa bond with locals, leave lasting impressions
Story by Lance Cpl. Andrew Avitt
Volunteers from both U.S. and Thai militaries came together with members from the local community Feb. 14 for a community relation's event at Banglamung Home for Boys in Thailand, during exercise Cobra Gold 2009.
Volunteers spent their time landscaping the area, painting old buildings and playing games with the 130 children who live and go to school there. The event also marked the last event of a successful community relations campaign throughout Thailand.
The boys weren't shy for a second rushing Marines and Sailors as they piled out of their vehicles for the sixth consecutive year. The volunteers helped the home's staff take care of the grounds and interacted with the young boys.
"Me and the staff take care of [the boys] like our own," said Chamaiporn Metasuth, director of Banglamung Home for Boys.
"So, I feel very happy when people come to visit the boys because they lack parents. When the U.S. military comes to play with them, the boys are happy," she said pointing at a Marine playing hackie sac with one of the children. "If they are happy, we are happy."
U.S. Navy Seabees painted a house alongside the Royal Thai navy, while Marines played soccer, took pictures and listened to music with their young friends.
When a fellow Marine saw Cpl. Carlos Corrales, a volunteer from Marine Attack Squadron 211, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, sharing headphones with one of the boys, he approached him to ask a question. But before he could ask, Corrales sounded off, "What? I'm teaching them about [my music]," he said with a smile.
After eating ice cream and lunch, the volunteers watched as 15 of the boys performed songs with anglungs, an instrument made from bamboo, before saying goodbye.
The purpose of community relations events is to reach out to people in need from host countries and build long-lasting friendships; the volunteers accomplished that by lending a hand here, said Lt. Cmdr. Myung D. Kim, the chaplain for Combined Task Force 76.
When asked to cite all of the things the community relations programs have done during Cobra Gold 2009, Kim gave a short laugh and said, "[To say the least], it has been very successful."
A total of $10,000 was put into a variety of community centers, schools and orphanages Kim said. He added it wouldn't have been possible without the time put in by volunteers.
Three hundred and twenty Marines and Sailors volunteered more than 1,000 hours of their time to various projects that impacted at least 1,600 people in a positive way during this year's exercise.
During the course of Cobra Gold 2009, volunteers painted a basketball court, a school, the outside of a dormitory, planted trees, cut grass, taught English and played sports and games with children throughout Thailand. Their actions represent the character and goodwill that epitomizes U.S.-Thai relationship.
Cobra Gold is an annually scheduled joint, coalition exercise and is the latest in the continuing series of military exercises designed to ensure regional peace and stability.