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NEWS | June 12, 2024

3rd MLR conducts civil engagements and volunteers during summer exercise series

By Cpl. Malia Sparks, 3rd Marine Division

In addition to enhancing their warfighting capabilities through bilateral military training, U.S. Marines and Sailors with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and Philippine Marines with 4th Marine Brigade, strengthened ties through community service and civil engagements during Exercise Balikatan 24, Archipelagic Coastal Defense Continuum, and the ongoing Marine Aviation Support Activity 24, on Luzon, Philippines, April 15 – June 12, 2024.

Balikatan, an annual bilateral exercise designed to strengthen capabilities, trust, and cooperation built over decades of shared experiences, is internationally recognized for emphasizing “shoulder-to-shoulder” training between all branches of the U.S. and Philippine militaries. This year’s 39th iteration of BK was followed by the first iteration of Archipelagic Coastal Defense Continuum, a series of bilateral exchanges and training opportunities between U.S. and Philippine Marines aimed at bolstering the Philippine Marine Corps’ Coastal Defense strategy. Then began MASA, an annual Philippine-U.S. military exercise focused on mutual defense, strengthening relationships, and rehearsing emerging aviation concepts.

During the execution of the Maritime Key Terrain Security Operation, one of four Combined Joint All-Domain Operations events that took place during BK24, 3rd MLR and 4th Marine Brigade experimented with the Littoral Reconnaissance Team concept by deploying low-signature, lightweight, expeditionary teams to the Batanes islands. There, the combined U.S.-Philippine LRTs tested sensing capabilities, conducted key leader engagements, and simulated the seizure and defense of key maritime terrain.

During this event and others, the Marines shared the unique and intimate experience of volunteering with the local community.

“We conducted civil reconnaissance training and key leader engagements with the Mayor of Itbayat and other local leaders as part of the MKTSO’s mission,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Lupita Rodriguez, a native of Texas and a civil affairs specialist with 3rd MLR. “But in addition to the scheduled engagements, we also had organic interactions with members of the local community, including patrols during which the Marines stopped to hand out candies, take photos, and play with the neighborhood children.”

During these spontaneous interactions, the Marines could take a break from the rigorous training they had been conducting over the three consecutive exercises and apply their professionalism to a different, but equally important, aspect of forward military presence: civil engagements.

“These sorts of civil engagements are important due to it being the first time many civilians from on and around the Batanes islands and Northern Luzon have ever seen U.S. Marines,” said Rodriguez. “You can only ever make one first impression. We want these people to know we care about them and that they can have faith and confidence in the U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines partnership.”

The Marines didn’t fail to create a lasting impression on the local populace of Itbayat. The streets buzzed with laughter and conversation as children played games and the adults shared their experiences, culture, and values with their new American friends.

Although their time on the island was short, the Marines made the most of it by engaging in various community service events, including painting several buildings on one of the local school campuses and picking up trash around the area to give the children a better environment to learn and play.

As a show of thanks, the Itbayat school’s leadership invited the U.S. and Philippine Marines to a joint dinner with the heads of the Barangay, the staff, and the students.

“The volunteering that 3rd MLR and the PMC conducted during these three exercises really opened some eyes as to what we’re fighting for,” said Sgt. David Palacios, a native of Florida and a squad leader with 3rd Littoral Combat Team. “When our Marines see the Filipino civilians leading peaceful lives, they understand what they are there to protect.”

The impact of the Marines’ volunteer service left a permanent mark on the hearts and minds of the local Filipino populace and forever changed the Marines and Sailors who had the opportunity to participate.

​“I think we made a good impact on the community,” reflected Rodriguez. “It meant a lot for us to be welcomed with open arms and to be able to have genuine connections with everyone we met on the Batanes and Northern Luzon. I hope we get the chance to see them all again soon.”

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