ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (NNS) -- Armed with hammers and hard-hats, a group of U.S. Sailors have been working with the Philippine military and local communities to help battle terrorism by fostering peace and economic development.
Honoring their work over the past 10 months, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, commander, Western Mindanao Command, presented the Philippine Military Civic Action Medal to the Sailors of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 1 detachment Philippines during an award ceremony May 13.
Dolorfino believes the military has more than a combat role, and that the military can be a key factor in the peace process in Mindanao.
"Today's soldier should be someone who is not only a warrior but a peace builder; conflict manager; an environmentalist; diplomat; information and economic development expert, rolled into one," he said.
The award highlights the combined humanitarian projects conducted by the Sailors, through a partnership with the AFP and skilled local workers. These projects improve the lives of hundreds of Filipinos, helping to reduce support for lawless groups and their safe havens in the southern Philippines.
"These Sailors have worked hard for 10 months," said Capt. Nathan Knowles, NMCB 1 officer-in-charge. "Helping to accomplish the JSOTF-P mission of reducing strongholds, by improving the local communities through civil military operations and humanitarian assistance construction projects increase the opportunities and the livelihoods of the local community."
Their projects, ranging from the construction of elementary schools and colleges, to the building of water distribution systems throughout Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao, have received a universally positive response from the communities they've helped.
"Everywhere we worked, the locals were very appreciative and would always offer us fresh fruit and something to drink." said Utilitiesman 1st Class Luis Alarcon, Jr.
One of the highlights during this time was the construction of the Lanao Agricultural College in Lumbatan barangay, Lanao Del Sur. The project turned a previously condemned area into a place that can provide a college education to more than 800 students. During the six months of construction, the Seabees lived on site, working extensively with locals and the AFP to make the project a success.
"It was a little more difficult living at the work site," said Builder Constructionman John Mariano, one of the Seabee's who received a medal at the event. "But it was well worth it."
Another aspect of the Seabees role is providing training for local communities. During multiple projects, the Sailors of NMCB 1 had the opportunity to train local workers on advanced construction methods, while working alongside them on civil action projects. Training classes were also conducted for the Philippine Seabees of the 3rd General Construction Company of the 1st Naval Construction Brigade. These classes helped increase their capacity and capabilities in performing their job.
"Training the Philippine Seabees was one of the more rewarding experiences we had," said Knowles. "We were able to introduce them to equipment and some simplified techniques to increase their ability to do general construction."
By facilitating joint construction projects to build and improve roads, schools, wells, bridges and medical assistance projects, the Philippine and U.S. military provide tangible actions that help assist the local population and lead toward a more peaceful Mindanao.
"I feel very honored," said Mariano. "It was a complete surprise, and I am still in amazement."
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