Together, more than 30 Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. personnel brought smiles to the faces of 200 families through Operation Goodwill as part of Balikatan 2009 at the Santo Nino Parish Church here April 22.
Operation Goodwill, based in Okinawa, Japan, the home of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, gathers clothing, shoes and toys to be distributed to needy people in Asian countries by troops on joint training exercises.
“This is a way for us to give to the Philippine community in true Balikatan fashion. We are working together with the AFP to show that we care,” said Cmdr. Ronald Tomlin, III MEF Chaplain, and a key official for Operation Goodwill.
After officiating a mass, the archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, blessed the donated items. The families, who were pre-selected by the church, then lined up to receive their items. Along with the Operation Goodwill items, they also received stickers and notebooks with the Balikatan logo on them to celebrate a joint RP-U.S. commitment to providing humanitarian assistance throughout the two-week training activity.
Two-hundred additional boxes were given to the AFP for distribution in other poverty-stricken areas of the country.
“It’s great to help the people in need. This is how we win the hearts and minds of the people, by building a relationship between the civic and military communities,” said AFP Army Pfc. Rodolfo Cantalejo, AFP Army CMO battalion. “This shows the people that not only is the military useful in battle, but in rebuilding communities.”
In addition to the assistance provided by Balikatan troops, Knightsbridge International, an organization that provides humanitarian assistance to poverty-stricken areas, helped secure the site to host the civic military operation and other details pertaining to the event.
“I watched the kids come out holding the bags, with big smiles across their faces. They are the future and one of the main reasons we’re here,” said Sir Edward A. Artis, chairman of Knightsbridge International. “When they see the men and women in uniform from their country working with the U.S. to make peace, it makes a huge difference. It is something that will stay with them forever.”
To close the event, J. Zamora Elementary School was presented with several pieces of physical education equipment, including basketballs, volleyballs, nets and tennis racquets.
“I am very happy our forces have joined hands in giving to our children. This is a big help to our school, especially to our physical education program,” said Mrs. Melba Tumameng, representative of the school’s principal. “Before, we had very little equipment. Now, more children will get hands-on time during P.E.”
This is the 25th year the Republic of the Philippines has hosted the annual training series. Together, the two countries share a long history of friendship and mutual obligations.
Throughout Balikatan 2009, the governments of the RP and U.S. will work together to ensure their militaries’ readiness and interoperability in the event of a natural disaster and humanitarian relief needs.
During that time, they will also conduct several joint medical, dental and engineering civic military operations throughout the country in the spirit of the tagalog word “balikatan,” meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder.”