Thai, US service members tour stadium providing shelter during floods
By 1st Lt. Luke Kuper
| U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific | February 10, 2014
PHITSANULOK, Kingdom of Thailand --
A ball is kicked through the air of an indoor soccer arena as a group of local doctors compete against each other in an afternoon match at the Phitsanulok Provincial Sports Complex. Seeing the open court and the friendly match, it is hard to believe that at one point 2,500 people lived in the building, seeking refuge from a devastating flood.
A group of U.S. service members with the civil affairs element of the Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force along with a Royal Thai Army counterpart participating in Exercise Cobra Gold 2014 visited the indoor sports structure Feb. 8 to meet with local key leaders and discuss the disaster response plans in place at the sprawling athletic complex in Phitsanulok, Kingdom of Thailand.
Cobra Gold is designed to improve the capability to plan and conduct combined-joint operations, build relationships between partner nations, and improve interoperability across the range of military operations.
Along with those key objectives, the exercise focuses on humanitarian and civic assistance projects including four engineering civic assistance projects, cooperative health engagement events, and civil affairs engagements with local key leaders and assessments of local infrastructures.
“We are at the sports complex with our Thai partners as part of the civil affairs portion of Cobra Gold 2014,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Matthew C. Frick, a civil affairs officer with the civil affairs detachment, G-3, operations, III Marine Expeditionary Force, currently serving as the civil affairs officer with the Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force. “We are assessing the disaster response capabilities of the facility and surrounding community. If a natural disaster occurs, it is important to know how the community will respond and whether a large complex such as this can assist in the response efforts.”
The facility was previously owned and operated by the government of Thailand government, and was later donated it to the university which now oversees the facility, according to Narong Didsadee, the director for the complex.
“This facility is for all kinds of sports,” said Didsadee. “But when there is flooding from the nearby river, we have a plan in place to protect the people.”
During the most recent flood event, the indoor stadium was able to provide shelter for local citizens who were temporarily displaced.
“We had about 2,500 people stay in the gymnasium,” said Didsadee. “The people who stayed were from the local area. Different government and nongovernment organizations brought food and water for the people.”
The cooperation between the community and the Thai military stationed in the area was made evident through their ability to work side by side during the flood and ensure the well-being of the affected community members, according to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Peter Yi, a civil affairs staff noncommissioned officer with the 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 9th Mission Support Command, currently assigned to the CJCMOTF.
“The Thai military and the workers at the complex were able to (help the people) together,” said Yi. “They managed the food, water and hygiene for all of the people who came here after the flood. The director acted as the site manager and coordinated with the NGOs and military.”
With the potential for floods or other natural disasters, it is important for the people of Phitsanulok to know where they can go should their home be damaged, according to Didsadee.
“We tell the people they can come here through the local radio and their (civic leaders) inform them,” said Didsadee. “The (facility) can also have Thai military helicopters land in the open fields and parking lots if there is an injured person.”
Understanding which facilities of a particular region can provide aid and shelter in the event of a natural disaster is an invaluable piece of information for any international relief effort, according to Frick.
“Working alongside our Thai and U.S. Army counterparts has allowed the civil affairs team to validate our assumptions,” said Frick. “Assessments such as these better prepare our militaries to assist the populace in the case of a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation. It’s always satisfying to know that the local people are prepared and that our team can contribute to the overall knowledge of an area.”