News: Marines, sailors care for Australian wildlife
Story by Cpl. Claudio Martinez
TOWNSVILLE, Australia - More than 15 Japan-based Marines and sailors participated in a cleanup and restoration project at the Billabong Sanctuary here Aug. 5 as part of the community relations projects planned in support of exercise Southern Frontier 2011.
Southern Frontier is an annual bilateral exercise designed to test and refine the Marine aerial units’ ability to provide close-air support to integrated American and Australian ground units. The exercise also focuses on strengthening bonds between the two countries.
Service members from Marine Aircraft Group 12 Headquarters, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 participated in the Billabong cleanup.
The Billabong Sanctuary is a family-owned animal preserve that houses many local animals including kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles and others. Cyclone Yasi devastated the preserve earlier this year, which forced the staff to close down part of the sanctuary due to damage incurred during the storm.
“We are not government funded in any way so we haven’t had all the support that we would have liked,” said Brett Flemming, Billabong Sanctuary general manager. “Projects like this, with the Marines helping out, are a big deal to us.”
More than a third of the park has been closed since the cyclone hit the sanctuary. The Marines and sailors spent the morning removing felled trees and debris left behind by the cyclone. They also worked to clear roads to make way for construction vehicles and to rebuild some of the animal enclosures.
Flemming said the Marines and sailors helped to clear away much of the debris he and his staff have been unable to clean up because of their busy schedules with animal presentations.
Cmdr. Dean Hoelz, MAG-12 group chaplain, was responsible for planning all the community relations projects in support of Southern Frontier 2011.
Hoelz said the projects are beneficial to both the service members and the community because it allows the service members to experience part of the culture up close and the community has a face to see.
“It helps the greater community to see U.S. forces out doing something other than just flying jets or shooting,” said Hoelz. “[These projects] are helping to rebuild.”
Many of the service members struggled as they worked together to remove the heavy trees and rubble left behind by the cyclone.
According to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology web site, a category five cyclone struck the northern region of Australia Feb. 2, Cyclone Yasi is one of the strongest cyclones on record to have hit Queensland. Wind speeds for the cyclone were estimated to have reached approximately 177.09 miles per hour and caused a tidal surge of more than 16 feet off the coast.
Although they spent the morning sweating and working, several of the Marines and sailors appreciated the opportunity to help out.
“Honestly, it’s a good experience for me because helping out people is one of the main reasons why I joined the military,” said Sgt. Eric Martinez, VMFA-314 career planner and cleanup participant. “It not only shows we are an elite fighting force but we actually do care and we are not trying to conquer every other country.”
After the service members finished their work at the sanctuary, some of the park rangers gave the Marines and sailors a free tour.
During the tour, service members were given the opportunity to learn about the local wildlife housed there.