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Sailors Renovate School for Panamanian Students

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS090914-07
Release Date: 9/14/2009 8:53:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erica Gardner

COLON, Panama (NNS) -- Sailors from three U.S. ships helped paint and partially renovate a Panamanian elementary school here on Sept. 12.

The community relations project, co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the nonprofit Operation Handclasp, was part of Fuerzas Aliadas Panamax 2009, a 12-day security training exercise involving 20 countries.

Sailors from USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), USS Doyle (FFG-39), and the USCG cutter Mohawk scraped and painted the walls of the elementary school, cut the grass from the playground area and removed broken glass and chalkboards.

"I am glad to give back to the kids and this gives me an opportunity to use my skills," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (AW) Fred Baxter.

Baxter and four Sailors from the Air Department worked together to remove nails from the walls, removed light fixtures and wall molding, dusted and swept before applying paint to the walls. Sailors prepped walls of a few classrooms for painting by chipping off damaged plaster.

"I am glad to be a part of a project in which I can see my shipmates work together on a project not related to the military," said Ensign Sarah Kuehl, Mesa Verde Combat Systems department. Kuehl has worked on many such community relations projects before on port visits. "I like getting my hands dirty," she said.

FA PANAMAX 2009 is one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world, and is taking place in the waters off the coasts of Panama from Sept. 11-22 with the participation of civil and military forces.

More than 20 vessels and a dozen aircraft are involved in the exercises. Participants are focusing on a variety of responses to any request from the government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality, and respect national sovereignty. Simulated ground forces are also participating at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

In Colon, several students were on hand to help Sailors renovate their school. They scraped paint from the walls, removed broken chalkboards and cut down some of the brush in the yard. Mesa Verde Sailors tackled overgrown playground area, with hand tools and power trimmers to cut down brush and tall grass.

"This is a great effort for us," said student Alan Melendez, 11, who helped several Sailors remove paint from the walls using a putty knife. "I hope they come back one day. Even though we will have graduated, it will be good for the others."

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