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    Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Seabees Construct Schools; Build Relationships

    Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Seabees Construct Schools; Build Relationships

    Courtesy Photo | Daren Trombley, builder constructionman, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Steven Rozecki,...... read more read more



    Story by Lt.j.g. Theresa Carpenter 

    U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific

    ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Thirty Seabees serving with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines are assisting with infrastructure projects to form lasting bonds and improve the lives of thousands of Filipinos.

    The construction projects are part of the overall JSOTF-P mission to support the armed forces of the Philippines and local government officials in countering terrorist networks and bringing economic prosperity through humanitarian and engineering projects.

    Some examples are the building of bridges, wells, community centers, medical clinics and school buildings. Seabees accomplish this by working side-by-side with their AFP counterparts and local contractors.

    For many years, Navy Seabees have been conducting temporary deployments to the Southern Philippines to conduct military exercises and humanitarian missions, such as Balikatan and Pacific Partnership.

    The process to initiate construction starts when projects are jointly nominated by Philippine government leaders, the AFP and JSOTF-P Civil Affairs Teams based on surveys of conflict-affected areas. Once approved by all three elements, teams set up site surveys to assess logistics issues such as lodging, meals, materials and transportation to the remote job site.

    All of the JSOTF-P civic-action projects aim to promote peace and stability throughout the Mindanao region.

    The current JSOTF-P Seabee detachment deployed here is originally from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-One, out of Gulfport, Miss., and has been in the Philippines since August. There are two teams here, with approximately 12 Seabees comprising each crew.

    "It is a wonderful feeling we can assist the community and help build schools in the Philippines. It has been an honor to work with the local contractors and the school superintendent to make this project happen," said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Kelley, construction electrician, the project supervisor for one of the projects.

    Government officials and school administration leaders also participate in the construction efforts, inspecting the workmanship and offering assistance when needed. And, building materials come from the local community.

    "All of our materials have been purchased by local contractors and delivered to the job site by local contractors, positively affecting the local economy," said Jeffrey Wright, chief steelworker, the Seabee senior enlisted leader.

    Another unique aspect about the mission here for the Seabees is that the construction projects directly impact the local residents.

    "There is a great satisfaction in doing humanitarian projects here. We have a fairly young crew, some on their first deployment. So, the fact that they can interact directly with the customer who they are affecting is really meaningful," said Wright.

    Constructing schools have been the focus of the current team here, with two current school projects in particular. Both buildings are also made possible with the help of the AFP, whose forces provide security while the Seabees are working.

    The first project is on the island of Jolo, in the Barangay (community) Kagay, with the construction of an elementary school. Seabees built two school buildings and a bathroom.

    The completion of the school this past December was especially important for the crew, as they had to stop in the middle of the project due to a tragic incident a few months back.

    On Sept. 29, two Army Special Forces Soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw and Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin, and Pfc. Jerwin J. Estrada of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team-6 were killed when their vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device as they travelled to the school site. The soldiers were conducting a resupply mission in the vicinity of the school when the incident occurred.

    At that point, construction was halted for six weeks while teams regrouped and a security plan was reestablished. The team returned to the area, determined to complete the project. Finishing the school demonstrated a resolve that lawless elements could not halt infrastructure developments in Jolo.

    "One of our main concerns, when we went back out there was that we already had three guys lives invested into this project," said Nicholas Moore, steelworker construction man.

    "To not complete [the school] would have been letting them down because these two Special Forces Soldiers did everything they could to help us see it through to the end. They always made sure they could get us any kind of supplies we needed, and they pushed and pushed and made things happen," he said.

    Wright also spoke of the Seabees determination to see this project to completion.

    "The Kagay team was glad to go back and finish the school. I don't think they would have been satisfied if they had been forced to leave project incomplete," he said.

    Finishing the Kagay School was an achievement for everyone who was involved in the project. It also was a statement to the community and surrounding areas that the Seabee team was there to help and could not be deterred.

    "When we were done with the school, everyone was just thrilled. During the last week, when we were finishing up, the locals were out there helping us paint, doing finishing touches and they erected a flagpool and monument," said Moore.

    Alex Pisa, construction electrician constructman, talked about the satisfaction of completing the Kagay School.

    "It was exciting to work on the school and a great feeling of accomplishment to know we were doing such a good thing for the community," said Pisa.

    The second project involved the building of two structures at the Lanao Agricultural College, which consisted of six classrooms, with a 5800 square-foot main building and a 1000 square-foot science building.

    Both projects include a complete septic system, electrical power distribution, lighting, fans, and a generator. The completion of these projects were made official and turned over to the community with recent ribbon-cutting ceremonies where members of the local governments, AFP and JSOTF-P leadership attended.

    Working conditions for the crew here are rigorous, with crews working 12-hour shifts, six days per week. Seabees live in walking distance of the sites and often go without many of the amenities other deployed service members may have.

    The Philippines is hot and humid, with temperatures usually in the upper 80s to low 90s. Crews must not only withstand rising temperatures, they often go months without access to phones and internet. But, ask any of the Seabees, and they will say the satisfaction of completing the project and giving the community a much-needed resource is worth all the hard work.

    "There is a strong tie between us and the locals here. Both the crews and residents were very emotional about the completion of these two projects. The Seabees are very satisfied with the impact they are able to have on the local communities," said Wright.

    Future projects for teams here will be the renovations of the two elementary Schools in Marawi, as well as what are known as "camp support" projects. These are projects designed to improve the living conditions and capabilities of U.S. forces and contractors. Both projects will involve the renovation of living spaces inside AFP camps.

    "We are very happy our people are working together on this school with AFP and the U.S. forces. Our people will greatly benefit from this project," said Jasmine B. Asum, the head high school instructor at the Lanao Agricultural College.



    Date Taken: 01.19.2010
    Date Posted: 01.19.2010 23:39
    Story ID: 44147
    Location: ZAMBOANGA, PH 

    Web Views: 959
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    Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Seabees Construct Schools; Build Relationships