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Combined Philippine-US force continues humanitarian efforts in Panay

US Marine Corps News

By Chief Petty Officer Lowell Whitman | April 14, 2015

The Combined-Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force, located on the island of Panay, completed a three-day cooperative health engagement with a train-the-trainer first responder medical course as part of exercise Balikatan, April 9.

Over 100 Armed Forces of the Philippines Army soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, the 6th Regional Community Defense Group and civilian first responders from the Capiz Emergency Response Team attended the training held at the Philippine Army's 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters at Camp Gen. Macario Peralta Jr., in Jamindan, to increase their knowledge or brush up on providing lifesaving medical care.

"We're teaching the first responder courses mainly to provide knowledge on how to provide lifesaving interventions in the case they are manmade, a natural disaster, car accident or whichever," said U.S. Army Capt. Jennifer Brown, cooperative health engagement lead. "It will increase their ability to step in and intervene and potentially save lives."

The training started with lectures, moved on to hands-on instruction and culminated in a mass casualty drill in which the students took turns treating each other suffering from multiple and different types of simulated life threatening wounds.

"All of the Philippine Army and civilian first responders have been very receptive," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gary Held. "They're pretty knowledgeable already so it helped speed along the training. It's probably the most enthusiastic group I've ever gotten to teach."

"For me, it's very good training," said Armed Forces of the Philippines Army Pvt. Leo Hornada. "The U.S. troopers were very good, and we gained a lot of knowledge."

The course was given with the intent for the AFP and civilians to not only learn to apply lifesaving first responder skills but also to help train others in those skills.

"We are teaching AFP soldiers how to do this and also how to teach it as well," said Brown. "This following week they will teach it to civilians from the local community so they'll increase the number of first responders here."

The cooperative health engagements are just one of many Balikatan activities currently underway on Panay.

U.S. Navy Seabees, from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, U.S. Marines, from the 9th Engineer Support Battalion and III Marine Expeditionary Force are working "shoulder-to-shoulder" with the AFP in civic construction, humanitarian assistance and disaster response preparation.

The engineers are working together to build a modified Philippine Department of Education one-story, two-classroom block and concrete building at the Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial Elementary School in Tapaz. The school, with a student body of 500, saw 14 of 22 classrooms damaged during Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

"The compaction for the concrete pads is done, the roof beams are up, all of the forms are going to come down and we'll place the concrete pads hopefully on Saturday," said Constructionman Kevin Surdyk, assigned to NMCB 5.

AFP engineers began working on the project March 12 and were joined by the Seabees and Marine engineers April 8. The classrooms are expected to be completed April 27.

Panay CJCMOTF civil affairs teams are busy completing infrastructure assessments. The teams are working with local civic leaders to help identify how to best respond to natural disasters that may occur on the island using the resources that the local governments have on hand.

These operations on Panay are the first to occur on the island in the history of the exercise.

"Everyone who understands the mission of Balikatan and understands that this is the first time we're on Panay is very grateful," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. Catherine Eyrich, assigned to NMCB 5 and CJCMOTF forward officer-in-charge. "The locals are extremely supportive and it's an opportunity to be part of something that has a huge impact, supports the AFP and helps prepare them for future humanitarian and disaster relief response."

The Panay CJCMOTF is a forward element from the main CJCMOTF efforts taking place on the island of Palawan during Balikatan 2015. The CJCMOTF efforts are being led by the U.S. Navy's 30th Naval Construction Regiment.

Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Filipino, is an annual bilateral training exercise held since 1984, aimed at improving the ability of Philippine and U.S. military forces to work together during planning, contingency, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

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