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JSOTF-P Seabees Construct Schools, Build Relationships

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS100121-27
Release Date: 1/21/2010 10:54:00 PM

By Lt. j.g. Theresa Donnelly, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Public Affairs

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (NNS) -- Thirty Seabees serving with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) are currently assisting with infrastructure projects to form lasting bonds and improve the lives of thousands of Filipinos.

Construction projects are part of the overall JSOTF-P mission to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and local government officials in countering terrorist networks and bringing economic prosperity through humanitarian and engineering projects.

Projects the Seabees are working on include the building of bridges, wells, community centers, medical clinics and school buildings. Seabees accomplish this by working side-by-side with their AFP counterparts and local contractors.

For many years, Navy Seabees have been conducting temporary deployments to Philippines to conduct military exercises and humanitarian missions, such as Balikatan and Pacific Partnership.

The process to initiate construction starts when projects are jointly nominated by Philippine government leaders, the AFP and JSOTF-P Civil Affairs Teams. Once approved by all three elements, teams set up site surveys to assess logistics issues such as lodging, meals, materials and transportation to the remote job site.

All of the JSOTF-P civic action projects aim to promote peace and stability throughout the Mindanao region of Philippines.

The current JSOTF-P Seabee detachment deployed in the region is originally from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, out of Gulfport, Miss., and has been deployed in Philippines since August 2009. The detachment is made up of two teams of approximately 12 Seabees.

"It is a wonderful feeling we can assist the community and help build schools in the Philippines. It has been an honor to work with the local contractors and the school superintendent to make this project happen," said Construction Electrician 1st Class (SCW) Michael Kelley, project supervisor.

Government officials and school administration leaders also participate in the construction efforts, inspecting the workmanship and offering assistance when needed, while the local community provides building materials.

"All of our materials have been purchased by local contractors and delivered to the job site by local contractors, positively affecting the local economy," said Chief Steelworker (SCW) Jeffrey Wright, the Seabee senior enlisted leader.

Another unique aspect about the mission for the Seabees is that the construction projects directly impact the local residents.

"There is a great satisfaction in doing humanitarian projects here. We have a fairly young crew, some on their first deployment. So, the fact that they can interact directly with the customer who they are affecting is really meaningful," said Wright.

The focus of the team has been on completing the construction of schools in the area. Two of the school buildings the Seabees have worked on were made possible with the help of the AFP, whose forces provide security while the Seabees are working.

The first project is on the island of Jolo, in the Barangay (community) Kagay, with the construction of an elementary school. Seabees built two school buildings and a bathroom.

The completion of the school in December 2009 was especially important for the crew, as their work was stopped in the middle of the project because of a tragic incident.

Army special forces soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw and Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin, and Marine Corps Pfc. Jerwin J. Estrada of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team 6 were killed Sept. 29 when their vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device as they travelled to the school site. The soldiers were conducting a resupply mission in the vicinity of the school when the incident occurred.

At that point, construction was halted for six weeks while teams regrouped and a security plan was reestablished. The team returned to the area, determined to complete the project. Finishing the school demonstrated a resolve that lawless elements could not halt infrastructure developments in Jolo.

"One of our main concerns, when we went back out there was that we already had three guys lives invested into this project," said Steelworker Nicholas Moore.

"To not complete [the school] would have been letting them down because these two special forces Soldiers did everything they could to help us see it through to the end. They always made sure they could get us any kind of supplies we needed, and they pushed and pushed and made things happen," said Moore.

Wright also spoke of the Seabees' determination to see the project to completion.

"The Kagay team was glad to go back and finish the school. I don't think they would have been satisfied if they had been forced to leave project incomplete," said Wright.

Finishing the Kagay school was an achievement for everyone who was involved in the project. It also was a statement to the community and surrounding areas that the Seabee team was there to help and could not be deterred.

"When we were done with the school, everyone was just thrilled. During the last week, when we were finishing up, the locals were out there helping us paint, doing finishing touches and they erected a flagpool and monument," said Moore.

Construction Electrician Alex Pisa talked about the satisfaction of completing the Kagay school.

"It was exciting to work on the school and a great feeling of accomplishment to know we were doing such a good thing for the community," said Pisa.

The second project involved the building of two structures at the Lanao Agricultural College, which consisted of six classrooms, with a 5800 square foot main building and a 1000 square foot science building.

Both projects include a complete septic system, electrical power distribution, lighting, fans and a generator. The completion of these projects were made official and turned over to the community with recent ribbon-cutting ceremonies where members of the local governments, AFP and JSOTF-P leadership attended.

Working conditions for the Seabee crew are rigorous, with crews working 12 hour shifts, six days per week. Seabees live in walking distance of the sites and often go without many of the amenities other deployed service members may have.

"There is a strong tie between us and the locals here. Both the crews and residents were very emotional about the completion of these two projects. The Seabees are very satisfied with the impact they are able to have on the local communities," said Wright.

Future projects for teams here will be the renovations of two elementary schools in Marawi, as well as what are known as camp support projects. These are projects designed to improve the living conditions and capabilities of U.S. forces and contractors. Both projects will involve the renovation of living spaces inside AFP camps.

"We are very happy our people are working together on this school with AFP and the U.S. forces. Our people will greatly benefit from this project," said Jasmine B. Asum, the head high school instructor at Lanao Agricultural College.

For more news from U.S. Pacific Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/pacom/.



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