CABANATUAN CITY, PHILIPPINES -- Groundbreaking ceremonies took place in five separate locations throughout Luzon, Republic of the Philippines, April 19-20, 2018, which officially started engineering civic assistance projects in support of humanitarian civic assistance events for Exercise Balikatan 34-2018.
The groundbreaking ceremonies, which were comprised of a mixture of service members from the Philippines, United States, Japan and Australia, allowed the local communities to show their support alongside the Department of Education and give their blessings to the structures being built.
The one-story, two-classroom structures are being built at the five elementary schools of Luga, Alibaga, San Antonio, Calangitan and Cabu.
Several of the ENCAP sites were blessed with holy water by a chaplain, and the blueprints for those structures were sealed into a time capsule in their respective locations. Distinguished visitors and honored guests lowered the time capsule into the ground and buried it with dirt to signify the official breaking of ground on the site.
“We are indeed glad to be of help to the community,” said Philippine Army Lt. Col. Ramon Antonio E Bello Cav, the commanding officer of 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion. “But after all is said and done, this project will just be a structure with a floor, walls, and a roof. It will be up to the teachers and the community to turn this structure into a classroom and a place of learning and molding for children.”
U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Dusti Doss, who is with 9th Engineer Support Battalion and is the ENCAP 4 site officer in charge, stated that the groundbreaking ceremony is a formal way of inviting everyone in the community to celebrate their respective school was chosen.
“It’s really cool to meet the teachers and the students we’re working to provide this building for,” said Doss, who is a 31-year-old native of Prattville, Alabama. “It’s good for us all to hear each other’s anthems and remember why we are here.”
However, the multinational service members had already begun construction prior to the groundbreaking ceremonies in order to ensure they finish the projects on time.
“Overall the construction is going really well, and I think we’re ahead of schedule,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Abigail Toth, the 24-year-old native of South Bend, Indiana, who is with the 84th Engineer Battalion and is the ENCAP 5 officer in charge. “I’ve never seen so many Soldiers work so hard. You have to tell them to take a break, and you have to tell them to stop at night or they will keep working and continue through the morning. So their level of motivation is super high.”
The multinational service members participating in Balikatan 34-2018 understand they aren’t just building a school, they are laying the foundation for something more.
“These projects are extremely important, not just on a military level to maintain relationships, but it’s also a community thing,” Doss said. “These are voting centers, these are medical centers, these are meeting places in the Barangay."
Balikatan 34-2018, in its 34th iteration, is an annual U.S.-Philippine military training exercise focused on a variety of missions, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism and other combined military operations held from May 7 to 18.