Story by MC1 Chris Fahey, Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force Public Affairs
U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Craig Timberlake, Deputy Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force, and Commanding General, 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, thanks the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 for their work in constructing the new San Pascual footbridge in San Narciso municipality, Zambales, Philippines. Photo by MC1 Chris Fahey
SAN PASCUAL FOOTBRIDGE
After two weeks of non-stop construction in the Philippine heat, the combined team of U.S. Navy and Philippine Seabees officially deemed the new San Pascual footbridge open to the community.
At the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock, U.S. Exercise Deputy Director Balikatan 2013 and guest speaker, said the new footbridge is symbolic of the Balikatan mission.
“The people of the U.S. and the Philippines are a lot alike. We all hope for a better future and happiness in our communities,” said Simcock. “Our two countries’ soldiers have worked shoulder-to-shoulder to help give something back to the community for letting us train in your country. This footbridge is a way to show we care.”
The new 66-meter footbridge spans a small valley that is impassable during the rainy season. During these months, farmers would either have to risk floating their crops across the flooded valley on a makeshift bamboo raft, pieced together with materials found nearby, or walk several miles out of their way to get to the village’s market center.
“When we tried to cross the old river, we would often lose things,” said Jessica Vilanueva through an interpreter. “During the rainy season, the river would flood and rise really high. We would have to walk several kilometers down the river to find a safe place to cross.”
The new footbridge stands roughly four meters above the valley. Strung up with a heavy steel suspension wire and encaged in chain-link fence, ensuring that villagers could cross the bridge safely. On either side, the bridge’s spans are anchored in cement atop three interconnected pillars.
The addition of the new bridge combined with a surge of barangay-wide support and sense of accomplishment turned the construction into a rare community-driven lesson on friendship.
“For some years now, more than we can count, the province of Zambales has been very supportive of the Philippine-American relationship,” said Philippine Navy Rear Adm. Jose Miguel Rodriguez. “The new footbridge will allow safe passage for children to school, farmers to market and for families to see each other. It will stand as an enduring symbol of the friendship shared between the U.S. and Philippines…a friendship the people of San Pascual support and if not for them, this amazing footbridge could have never been built.”
U.S. Exercise Deputy Director Balikatan 2013 Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock thanks the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 for their work in constructing the new San Pascual footbridge in San Narciso municipality, Zambales, Philippines Photo by MC1 Chris Fahey
RABANES, LAWIN SCHOOLHOUSES
A combined team of Seabees and Philippine and U.S. Marines packed up their tools and welcomed children from the San Marcelino Municipality into their new schoolhouses following back-to-back ribbon cutting ceremonies, Zambales, Philippines.
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 and Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 172, along with members of the Philippine Army’s 548th Engineer Construction Battalion, comprised the crew that completed the Lawin school project. The Rabanes school was renovated by a team of engineers from the U.S. Marine Corps’ 9th Engineer Support Battalion and Philippine Seabees from the Naval Construction Brigade.
The Lawin schoolhouse is a new two-classroom prefabricated building specifically designed to withstand the heavy Philippine rainy season. Although not built from scratch, the Rabanes schoolhouse received extensive renovations to the foundation, walls, roof, support frames, electrical wiring and plumbing, as well as a brand-new concrete floor. Both locations received substantial drainage renovations to ensure the new and renovated buildings would better withstand any potential flooding.
School district supervisor Virgina Fulgueras said the work performed on the district’s behalf will never be forgotten.
“If you want to be remembered for a year, plant rice. If you want to be remembered for 10 years, plant a tree. If you want to be remembered forever, build a school,” said Fulgueras. “What you’ve done in one month will live forever in our children. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
The U.S.-Philippines relationship dates back to the early 1900s, when educators known as the Thomasites visited the Philippines to help provide the island residents with basic education. Since then, education stands as a lasting legacy passed down from family member to family member, similar to an heirloom.
“The skills we gain from these projects will help us respond to any sort of natural disaster or other contingency,” said Rear Adm. Paula Brown, deputy commander, 1st Naval Construction Division (1NCD). “Our U.S. and Armed Forces of the Philippines engineers shared different construction techniques, exposing each to new methods and building technical skills to tackle future engineering challenges.”
Both projects were among seven other engineering civic actions (ENCAP) projects completed in support of Exercise Balikatan 2013.
Balikatan is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral exercise. Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and provide assistance in communities where the need is the greatest.