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ESG 1 Sailors, Marines Assist Phillipines in Relief Operation

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS050818-02
Release Date: 8/18/2005 10:03:00 AM

By Lt. Ron Flanders, Expeditionary Strike Group 1 Public Affairs

TAWI TAWI, Republic of the Phillipines (NNS) -- More than 150 Sailors and Marines from Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 1 teamed with medical personnel from the Armed Forces of the Phillipines (AFP) and civilian relief organizations in a humanitarian assistance operation in the southern island of Tawi Tawi Aug. 9-10.

The two-day joint operation in the small towns of Batu Batu and Sanga Sanga provided nearly 3,000 indigent residents with medical and dental care, and furnished local schools with new desks, tables and bookshelves.

Just after midnight on the first day of the operation, Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group (MSSG 13) and Battalion Landing Team 2/1, medical personnel from Fleet Surgical Team 3, and doctors and dentists from USS Tarawa (LHA 1) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) boarded landing craft, utility, (LCU) from Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 1 with their AFP counterparts.

Four hours later, with the craft tied up to the pier at Naval Station Batu Batu, and after unloading food, water, and medical supplies, the team walked to the town, where they were met by more than 1,500 villagers already standing in line.

In Batu Batu, ESG 1 and AFP doctors worked in tandem, treating more than 1,300 patients, including several hundred young children. They provided general medical screening, minor surgeries, and free medications and multivitamins.

“There is only one doctor in Batu Batu right now, and she doesn’t have any supplies,” said Marine 1st Lt. Jackie Carter, the site commander for the operation. “This is huge for these people. The basic care we are giving them is probably something they haven’t had in years, if at all.”

The urgency of the situation immediately became apparent to the medical teams, said Lt. Dawn Thatcher, a dentist from Pearl Harbor.

“Out of more than 1,000 people, we didn’t see a single filling,” Thatcher said. “These people had never had any kind of dental care.”

Over both days, Thatcher and her fellow American and Filipino dentists and technicians treated 600 patients, pulling more than 900 teeth. They also identified children with cleft lip, referring them for surgical procedures with a Filipino relief foundation.

After demonstrating the ability to conduct a large-scale humanitarian assistance operation via amphibious landing, ESG 1 demonstrated the ability to conduct operations from the air into Sanga Sanga. CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 163, the Air Combat Element (ACE) of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), transported the joint ESG-AFP humanitarian assistance team and all its supplies from the decks of Tarawa to Mindanao State University in Sanga Sanga.

The medical teams on the ground turned the school into a hospital, setting up dental areas, medical triage rooms and a pharmacy. ESG 1 medical personnel worked shoulder-to-shoulder with AFP personnel, diagnosing and treating patients. The joint effort featured seamless integration; ESG hospital corpsmen integrated with AFP doctors and civilian relief agencies, sometimes with the help of Filipino personnel from Tarawa fluent in the indigenous Tausug dialect.

Hospitalman Alicia Tilley worked alongside an AFP Nurse Corps colonel both days, treating hundreds of patients, mostly young children.

“It was great to get off the ship and get a chance to use all of our training to help these people, especially the kids,” Tilley said. “Working alongside the AFP military doctors and nurses was an honor for us. We learned from each other and developed a bond.”

The teamwork extended through all phases of the operation. MSSG-13 engineers teamed with the AFP to build new furniture for a local elementary school; AFP Marines providing security for the sites integrated with their U.S. Marine counterparts. ESG 1 Sailors and Marines teamed with local government officials and non-government relief organizations to package and distribute hundreds of pounds of school supplies and textbooks to children.

After two days of nonstop work in the extreme heat, the ESG 1 team returned back over the horizon, content with the knowledge they had made a difference for the people of the Phillipines.

“For everyone involved, this was an extremely positive experience,” said Marine Lt. Col. Don Liles, commanding officer of MSSG 13. “They don't have much at all, and for doctors and dentists to show up and show an interest in them, they were exceptionally pleased. We made an immediate impact on their lives,” Liles said.

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