Laughter – universal language during joint operations
By Cpl. Mark Fayloga
| | May 09, 2007
WAT NONG GRAB, Thailand --
They work side-by-side without a common language and at first there’s some difficulty. A request for a new tool is received with puzzled glances and shared silence, finally interrupted by an awkward shared laughter.
After a few days of interaction, a system is worked out. A shake of a hand one way or the other is a way of asking for more mortar or extra paint. A sailor turns to grab the requested item and accidentally knocks over a bucket of water; embarrassed, he turns to see if anyone noticed. Everyone in the group saw the blunder and again they share laughter, this time it’s only awkward for the clumsy sailor.
A detachment of approximately 20 Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 (Seabees), Naval Base Port Hueneme, Calif., along with an Engineer Battalion Royal Thai Marines are currently finishing up work on a multipurpose room, as well as several other side projects, at Wat Nong Grab Elementary School here.
This community relations project was one of 11 humanitarian/civic assistance projects taking place during Exercise Cobra Gold. These projects are designed to improve interoperability and build friendly relations between the Pacific partner nations responding to regional contingencies such as the multinational combined relief effort in support of those affected by the 2004 Tsunami.
A dedication ceremony for the building will be held May 18. The Seabees have been in Thailand for more than a month taking advantage of their time here to help out the local community while building a bond with their Thai counterparts.
“The biggest accomplishment of this deployment is we’re creating a friendship,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Marc S. Nelson, detachment officer-in-charge. “We’re providing an asset to the community. It’s something that will be here forever that was built by U.S. and Thai forces.”
The building will last for many years and the friendship molded is sure to last just as long.
“The best thing about the entire operation is the interaction between the U.S. and Thailand,” said Thai Lt. j.g. Jirasak Wangworawottanshol, officer-in-charge, Engineers Battalion. “It’s not just building the buildings, but building the relationships between the Thai and U.S. militaries. We can use this time to share experiences and work together.”
Shared experiences were highly noticeable at the site as laughter could be heard from each joint team spread about the area.
“It’s rewarding being out here because you get to see another side of life,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Raymond E. Bruner, utilities man, NMCB-3. “It’s just fun working with them (Thai Marines). I like to come into work with them because I get a good laugh all day. The laughter makes the work easier, time goes by quick and it’s just been fun for me.”
Bruner, a Kansas City native, said he has especially enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in humanitarian work; a welcome break from his two previous deployments to Iraq. For another sailor, she couldn’t agree more.
“It’s why I joined,” said Seaman Kathryn R. Henderson, builder, NMCB-3. “Helping people out is the reason we’re here and it’s the most rewarding thing. It’s about the relationships we’re building and it’s been wonderful.”
Construction on the multipurpose building has gone so smoothly the Thais and Seabees have undertaken several side projects ranging from building a storage shed to landscaping.
The side projects have provided the two groups extra opportunities to share experiences as well as learn from one another.
“I’ve actually learned a lot from them,” said Bruner referring to two Thai Marines who are teaching him how to do concrete work around a shrine. “I’m a plumber. So, I don’t know anything about doing stucco. I’m learning the building side of things from them.”
As Bruner describes working alongside and learning from his new Thai friends, almost out of habit, he uses hand signals. His Thai counterparts watch him as he speaks. When he returns to help them, teasingly they mimic his hand signals. All three laugh.
More stories, photos and videos are availible at www.apan-info.net/cobragold.