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    Marine from Okinawa's deployment to Philippines yields unexpected realizations

    I returned from my first deployment to the Philippines last week. Before leaving more than a month ago for the annual exercise, Balikatan 2009, I had many expectations about what I would find there - poverty, maybe a small amount of uncertainty from the Filipinos about American forces being in the area and, of course, an entirely new culture that differed radically from my own Texan upbringing.

    But I learned something monumental from one 9-year-old girl, Jeandra, in the Sorsogon province of the Philippines - people are the same no matter where you go, whether it's a different culture or not. During my month-long stay in the Philippines, American and Philippine forces built a school house and refurbished a road in her town, and I visited there a handful of times to report on the projects' progress.

    Of course, I met many friends there who I plan to keep in contact with and I learned something from each one. But Jeandra taught me the most.

    It wasn't one thing she said or did, but it was that she reminded me more of my 10-year-old sister, Erin, more than anyone else I had ever met. Every time I visited her town, she had a quiet, yet excited way about her. She giggled at the same corny jokes my sister would have laughed at, enjoyed piggyback rides, loved to sing and act goofy and liked the same school subjects. She even had a haircut similar to my sister's.

    What's more, after a brief period of shyness, she accepted me, cultural differences and all, as easily as she would accept a new neighbor in her town. After noticing this, I started looking at the Filipino people in a different light, and realized not only are children the same the world over, but all of us are.

    Sure, we as Americans may have more financial resources and advantages, but the essentials are all the same.

    When my parents got divorced, my mom became a single mother of two. She worked long hours to make sure my brother and I wanted for nothing. I saw the same resolve in the faces of parents there. They all worked hard to feed and clothe their children and keep a roof over their family's head.

    At the Medical Civil Action Projects, which offered free medical, dental, optometric and veterinary care to the local population, I saw parents sick with worry over the condition of their children or spouse. I saw the same people elated with relief as they walked off the sites after their loved ones were treated. I have seen those same expressions on my own parents' faces when my siblings and I were sick.

    Most of the friends I made in the Philippines, were around my own age and they weren't much different from my American friends, or from me. They are all enrolled in a local university or recently graduated and hold down full-time jobs.

    They each have their romantic flings and dreams of a life bigger than their own. They care for their families, and have nosy parental figures like mine. They go on adventures with their friends, stay up all night chatting on the Internet and have the same insecurities as any other young adult just figuring out the way of the world.

    Jeandra may not have meant to gain anything aside from getting to know the first Americans she had ever seen, but she gave me a gift I will carry for the rest of my life. She touched my mind and my heart in a way I never expected, by opening my eyes to see the similarities we share as a human race, instead of seeing the differences.

    Golden is a combat correspondent with the Okinawa Marine.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 05.08.2009
    Date Posted: 05.08.2009 00:48
    Story ID: 33346
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