Joining the military sometimes means being away from family and friends, traveling to new and exotic places, or having the option to stay in the continental U.S.
For two Filipino-American service members, traveling to the Philippines for Exercise Balikatan 2012 brings them back to their roots.
U.S. Marine Lance Cpls. John L. Culilap, a field wireman with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, and Jed A. Delos-Reyes, a motor transportation operator with Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, were both born and raised in the Philippines.
For the exercise, they provide security at the camp at Crow Valley and help break down language barriers between Philippine and U.S. service members, allowing a wealth of knowledge, culture and understanding to flow through the camp like wildfire.
“I try to help out as much as I can,” Culilap said. “Marines want to know what food to try and where to go, while Filipinos ask about America for the most part. My superiors sometimes need me to translate with local drivers or shopkeepers, and I know enough of the language to get by.”
Both Marines moved to California from the Philippines when they were young. Their life stories are different, however, both are inspiring.
“My parents separated when I was 12 years old,” Delos-Reyes said. “My mother then married an American man, and we moved to Seaside, (Calif.). I had a hard time in school at first, and my English still isn’t perfect, but when I look back, coming to America was a good thing.”
Delos-Reyes hadn’t been back to the Philippines to see his family until December 2011. During his visit, he reconnected with friends, bought a house and held a birthday celebration for his niece. When he returned from leave, he found out he was going back again, but this time for Balikatan.
“I was so excited when I found out,” Delos-Reyes said. “I told all my family, and I’m hoping to see them when we go on liberty. Interacting with the people here in Crow Valley makes me feel like I’m back home.”
Today, the men are treated like celebrities by the people from the surrounding towns of Capas Tarlac and Barangay Santa. They get to indulge in the local cuisine, talk about the progress of their country and pass on what they’ve learned to their brothers and sisters in the Corps.
“I literally lived like this,” said Delos-Reyes as he looked around at the surrounding village that lacksindoor plumbing, electricity and paved roads. “It brings back memories and makes me want to give back as much as I can to the people here in the Philippines.”
When the Philippine Marines set up camp next to Camp Palacio, it really hit home on how much the Filipino-American Marines had changed since moving to the U.S. Culturally, everything from their housing to the way meals were prepared was different.
“I’m used to the way I did things (while living) in the Philippines, but we can really learn from each other since this is a foreign environment to many Americans,” said Culilap. “The (Philippine Marines) know how (difficult conditions are) here, and they can teach us a lot and learn from how we train for different countries. Filipinos can be one of the most hospitable people in the world, and I hope that the Marines get a sense of that while they’re here.”