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Military

This year, Balikatan exercise has sparked a media frenzy in Philippines
By Joseph Giordono, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, March 8, 2002

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — U.S. soldiers are killed in a pitched battle in the
mountains of Afghanistan. Religious violence claims hundreds in India. The Middle East
powder keg appears ready to explode.



But in the southern Philippines, there is only one story: Balikatan.



Government troops and separatist fighters have been fighting for years, but the arrival
of 660 U.S. troops two months ago gave new life to the story and attracted an
international media contingent unlike anyone here can remember.



"We are used to having the local media cover everything that we do here, but the
presence of so many foreign journalists has stretched our understanding," said Col.
Danilo Servando, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Southern Command.



In the first days after U.S. troops began arriving in January, the Philippine military
issued more than 400 media credentials. They quickly ran out of the cards, and some
journalists are still waiting for their passes.



Like any big story, the media attention also has created some unwitting local stars.
One of those is U.S. Army Maj. Cynthia Teramae, the main spokeswoman for Joint Task Force
510.



As the public face of the American contingent, Teramae makes the front page or the top
of the television news almost every day.



"It’s pretty funny to have all of these people come up to me and know my name
and want to shake my hand," Teramae said. "They’re all really friendly, so
I try and be friendly right back."



Indeed, wherever Teramae walks on Camp Navarro — U.S. troops are not allowed off
the post, except on official business and with a Philippine military escort — people
run up to say hello and shake her hand.



Another early, if unlikely, media star was Wolfgang Schlauch, better known as Mr.
Sausage.



Schlauch, a German who emigrated to the Philippines in 1977 and started a chain of
fast-food sausage restaurants, was one of the local vendors invited to a three-day craft
and food fair on the base last week.



His booth, which featured grilled bratwurst and other sausages, was a huge hit among
U.S. troops already weary of bland chow-hall food. So, the line in front of his booth
became a popular spot to try and pry an interview from a U.S. soldier. The Mr. Sausage
sign made it into most television news shots from that day.



"I am from Frankfurt, and I remember a time when in 1944, the Americans came to
save the Germans from ourselves," Schlauch said. "Now, the Americans are in my
new country to help save us again. I have nothing but respect for them."



While many of the foreign journalists have already moved on to hotter spots in the
world, complaining that their editors do not want stories from the Philippines, the large
number of Philippine journalists remains, mostly spending the day in the
semi-air-conditioned press room.



Many are being paid as stringers for the larger news organizations, and are hoping that
international interest in the story does not wane.



Of course, the heightened media attention has not been a benefit to all.



The increased media attention has also caused problems for the Philippine military.
With camera crews seemingly everywhere, some embarrassing scenes have been caught on film.



One front page photo in the days after a U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed showed the
Philippine Air Force chief of staff being carried through the surf on the back of a
low-ranking soldier.



Walking beside them knee-high in the surf was U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mike Farris, a
spokesman for the U.S. forces here.



Farris later laughed off the photo, but it caused the Philippine military major
embarrassment and reportedly earned a demotion for the chief of staff.




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