PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines –
U.S. service members of the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy team with the Australian Army, Philippine Air Force, and the local community as they continue construction efforts during exercise Balikatan 2015 at the Engineering Civil Action Project (ENCAP) 1, Santa Lourdes National High School, April 21.
This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippines-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement.
The beginning of the construction of a two classroom Department of Education of the Philippines standard building began March 15, 2015, and is intended to help better enable the education at the high school.
U.S. Navy Construction Electrician 3rd3rd Class Queeniemay Galarpe, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, said the experience of working in a joint and multinational environment has been interesting and rewarding.
“So far we’re having so much fun,” Galarpe said. “Since this is a joint site there are people from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines as well as the Philippine Air Force. The way they do stuff in their construction is very different from us but we are learning stuff that we can actually take back to home port. It’s such a great addition to my skills.”
For Galarpe, being able to use her skills in the Philippines has a special meaning to her. Galarpe was born in the Philippines and grew up in Zamboanga and Manila before she moved to California in 2008.
“Where I lived we really didn’t have enough school, so being out here and building a school for the kids is such a blessing for me,” Galarpe said. “I feel super blessed that I’m here to share my talent, my time, and my effort. I think that the addition of the classrooms will greatly impact their quality of education because the kids will have more focus, the classrooms will be more conducive to learning, and it will give the teachers a better place to teach.”
Airman 2nd Class Kenneth John, a 570th Composite Tactical Wing vehicle operator in the Philippine Air Force enjoys the interaction with different militaries during the exercise.
“I am glad that I am a part of this project, the Balikatan exercise,” John said. “It’s my first time to work with other nationalities. It is my pleasure. They learn from us and we learn from them as well.”
U.S. Navy Lt. Carlos Garcia, Officer in Charge of ENCAMP 1, has seen the team transform since he arrived.
“From the first day, obviously the camaraderie wasn’t there and everybody had their own groups, but at the same time, that same day, everybody understood that were here to do something, - to build a school for the community,” Garcia said. “By the second day you could just see them becoming a team. It doesn’t matter what the uniform is that you’re wearing. They’re all here to build this school building.”
Garcia said that he is proud of his team but the real success only comes when the task is completed.
“Right now everyone is just working hard from 7 to 7 where humidity is at 80 percent, and the temperature is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit on a daily basis,” Garcia said. “More than construction, I’m just proud of all of us coming together and making a team within ourselves, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the community.
Vilmalyn Esoy, Santa Lourdes National High School principal, is one of the community members who appreciate the support the ENCAP 1 team is providing.
“They are working so fast,” Esoy said. “They go home late at nearly 7 p.m. and show up before 7 a.m. Of course the people in the community are happy because it is a legacy. It will not be utilized for just a year but it will be used for many generations to come.”
The quality of the school means a lot to Esoy because many students will spend more time on the campus than at home.
“Sometimes they cross four rivers,” Esoy said. “It’s very difficult for them, especially during the raining season because rivers are overflowing so they cannot go to school. We all know that our students stay more here than at home because they come before eight in the morning and they go home at probably five in the afternoon. It’s really good if they have a more conducive place when they are outside their home.”
Esoy said that the facility will be utilized as two classrooms, one room for grade seven and another room for grade nine.
Santa Lourdes National High School is one of five ENCAP sites where exercise Balikatan participants are working together to better the surrounding communities and strengthen partnerships between the U.S. military and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.