ORMOC CITY, Leyte --
Australian Army Cpl. Steven Mlinaric and Spr. Joshua Park, both carpenters with the 6th Engineer Support Regiment, come from a country where carpentry work must be completed by fully licensed workers. They bring a career's worth of knowledge to the many construction projects taking place during Exercise Balikatan, as do Soldiers with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Attached to the U.S. Air Force 733rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Mlinaric and Park work shoulder-to-shoulder with AFP Soldiers. The two carpenters find themselves gaining valuable lessons from their Philippine counterparts during Balikatan 2017.
"Usually, we just order our sand and it's good to go," Mlinaric said. "Here, I've learned how to screen sand the old fashioned way, and Filipinos are good at making do with what they have and getting the job done."
Ormoc City is located in a rural area in the Philippines which requires expeditionary and effective methods of construction, and AFP engineers have showed Australian and American carpenters how to get a job done without high-tech machinery.
"My biggest challenge here is that we build with minimal tools," Park said. "But it's also the greatest thing about working here, because we learn what the Filipinos are able to do with their own tools from local materials."
Australian Army carpenters may be tasked with construction projects in less developed areas of their own country, and Mlinaric appreciates learning alternative techniques from the Philippine soldiers.
"One day we may not have a machine that we need, and now we know how to do it a simpler way," Mlinaric said.
The teamwork among Australians, Americans, and Filipinos bridges the cultural and career differences. Learning new skills may be a new experience to most of the engineers on scene, but it is a common experience during an exercise like Balikatan's 33rd iteration.
Despite many people meeting for the first time, different units had no trouble getting along.
"They welcomed us in and we felt like part of the team straight away, and it was pretty good to come here and just walk into that kind of environment," Park said.
With everybody working toward the same goal, building classrooms for Ormoc children, an empty lot of dirt and grass turned into a crossroads of cultural enlightenment and career development.
"My favorite things about this mission are working alongside the U.S. and Filipino members, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures," said Mlinaric. "I love my construction work and they do too, so we all get along, have our laughs, and we can get a job done together that benefits the schools and community of Ormoc."