NEWS | Dec. 22, 2017

Military Sealift Command’s USNS Pecos Delivers Project Handclasp to Thai Kids

By Grady Fontana Military Sealift Command Far East

Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197) recently transported about two tons of U.S. Navy Project Handclasp humanitarian items from Singapore to Thailand that supported four community relations (COMREL) events at local organizations here.

The COMRELS were part of continuing efforts by MSC to build lasting friendships with the local community that surrounds the shipyard that is frequented by MSC vessels. Many of the students of the local schools here are children of shipyard workers.

MSC Far East Chaplain Glen Kitzman, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, and Peter Thorand, the tireless 72-year-young president of the Navy League Siam Council, organized the events.

The COMRELS took place at separate locations during four consecutive days from Dec. 13 to 16: the Hippo Center in Sriracha, a center for autistic children, which is managed by Royal Thai Marines; Chonburi School for the Deaf in Chonburi Province; Nikom 3 primary school in Rayong; and Map Yang Ra Hong primary school in Chantaburi.

The USNS Pecos is currently in Sriracha undergoing routing voyage repairs. The vessel departed from Singapore and Kitzman used opportune sealift to transport the gear from there.

Kitzman manages the distribution of Project Handclasp materials during his assignment to MSC Far East.

“When I came to Singapore about four years ago there were approximately 80 to 100 pallets of Handclasp material that was sitting in the warehouse in Singapore,” said Kitzman. “So I thought, why are we not using this material? We have the lift capability. The ships come right here to Singapore and all we have to do is load it to one of our ships that is bound for various locations in the region.”

Members of USNS Pecos participated in two COMRELS, while members of Patrol Squadron 8, a U.S. Navy land-based patrol squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., and deployed to Okinawa, Japan, participated in another. Both organizations interacted with the children and distributed Project Handclasp items.

“The gifts that we give to them open the door of opportunity for conversations,” said Kitzman “You often saw a group of kids around our civilian mariners (civmars). It helps the kids reinforce their English skills and there is certainly some value to that—it can help them in their careers moving forward.”

Several students huddled around the mariners while the civmars talked with them and encourage them to keep up with their English language skills.

In Chonburi School for the Deaf, civmars from the Pecos showed the kids video clips of an underway replenishment in action.

“At the School for the Deaf, we were asked ‘what do you guys do?’ Instead of just saying ‘manning the pumps’ I thought it was a better idea to show them a video,” said civmar Edward Andrada, a boatswain mate aboard the USNS Pecos and 8-year MSC veteran. “At the Nikom 3 School in Rayong, we delivered project handclasp material: hygiene, medical items, and a sewing machine kit.”

In addition to the commonly found items in the Project Handclasp inventory, the gear included a sewing machine kit, which consisted of a self-powered sewing machine, various patterns for practicing sewing, and several boxes of cloth remnants.

The sewing machine kit included the stand, desk and tabletop, and the sewing machine.

“Every COMREL had a sewing machine,” said Chaplain Kitzman. “The school principal told me that they have a home economics class that the sewing machine would be used in and the children would learn at a young age how to properly sew materials and how that skill could translate into future opportunities—not only personally but maybe occupationally, if that’s what they chose.”

This was the first COMREL for Jeff Stanley, who is new to MSC and an ordinary seaman with the Pecos.

“It was very interesting watching the kids despite their challenges they are still able to maintain a positive attitude. At the School for the Deaf, they were very hospitable,” said Stanley. “We assembled the sewing machine kit with eight civilian mariners and interacted with the children through songs and sign language demonstrations. We sang songs with each other in native languages and had lunch with the staff members.”

The latest rounds of COMRELs here mark the last stock of Project Handclasp materials from Singapore. The warehouse in Singapore is now empty. However, the gestures of goodwill continue for the MSC fleet of mariners.

MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.