PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines - As part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's humanitarian civil affairs engagements for Amphibious Landing Exercise 13, two engineering projects commenced to improve local infrastructure here, Oct. 9.
PHIBLEX 13, the bilateral training evolution between U.S. and Filipino military forces, includes multiple HCA projects in the province of Palawan, joining together Marine and Navy personnel with their Filipino counterparts to provide assistance to the locals.
"For the duration of the two weeks we are here, we will be working on two sites within local elementary schools," said Gunnery Sgt. Eric Smith, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Palawan Engineering Capability Exercise with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU and a native of Bastrop, Texas. "There's no ulterior motive when we do these projects; we're here to help and build stronger relationships. That's our reward."
At the Macarascus Elementary School, the construction of a roofed seating area is underway in front of the school's outdoor pavilion. Simultaneously, an underground septic tank is being built next to a pre-existing one at Tagburos Elementary School with the addition of a leech field (waste and fertilization runoff).
After the initial days of breaking ground at both projects, the Philippine Marine Corps and Navy lent personnel to assist in the projects, and Seabees with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 from Okinawa, Japan, joined the workforce after completing projects of their own in the region.
"After opening up a cement bag, I hand it to a Filipino Marine who in turn hands it to a U.S. Seabee," said Lance Cpl. Cameron Wright, heavy equipment operator with CLB-31 and a native of Jacksonville, Fla. "You can't get much more diversity working on this project."
Both projects are at no cost to the schools in materials or labor. During the work days, students and teachers alike flock to the participating service members to show their appreciation.
"Every year the U.S. Marines and Navy come to the schools, it is a very big deal for us," said Joy Aguilar, principal of Tagburos Elementary School. "They always alleviate hardships during their visits, and the work they are doing now will improve the physical and educational aspects of the schools."
For the next few weeks, the U.S. and Philippine Marines and Sailors will work through rain or shine to complete their projects, boosting the overall conditions of the schools and building upon an already strong bond between the U.S. and Filipino people.
PHIBLEX, now in its 29th iteration, is an annually-scheduled bilateral exercise between the U.S. and Philippine forces, aimed at increasing interoperability and strengthening a long standing relationship.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps' force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region