by Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal
Defense Media Activity
5/8/2015 - PALAWAN, Philippines -- Philippine,
U.S., and Australian forces joined barangay, meaning village in
Filipino, communities including San Rafael, Santa Lourdes, and Sabang to
turn over brand new school buildings to elementary and high schools
during exercise Balikatan 2015 April 28 and 29.
This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, an annual
Philippine-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian
civic assistance engagement.
Construction of these BK15 humanitarian civic assistance projects
started this past March with Santa Lourdes National High School, Sabang
Elementary School, San Rafael High School and San Rafael Elementary
School each receiving a two-classroom building.
In addition, each site was able to use excess engineering materials to
build things such as a basketball court and a perimeter fence to further
improve the school grounds.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Gates of Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson's 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron, a heating,
ventilation, air conditioning craftsman, helped construct the classroom
facility at San Rafael Elementary School and feels a sense of pride
after completing the project.
"When we first got here it was a lot of beams and wood with pieces
everywhere," Gates said. "To come this far and see a finished product
through sweat, blood and everything like that with my brothers from the
Philippines is amazing. What this building means to the community is
beyond any type of expression that we can explain. This idea of these
kids being able to have a better future that we and my Filipino brothers
provided them is ... there are no words."
A building marker was unveiled at the end of each ceremony and each
classroom was blessed by Armed Forces of the Philippines Father Lt. Col.
Bernie E. Lingcong, Western Command command chaplain.
U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Paul Brier, 4th Marine Division commander, joined
AFP leadership and community leaders in San Rafael to cut the ceremony
ribbons at their elementary and high school.
Brier also gave his thanks to the barangay of San Rafael for the chance
to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the AFP as well as their community.
"We greatly appreciate the opportunity to do this," Brier said. "We look forward to these opportunities in the future."
Rex Restar, Barangay San Rafael Parent Teacher Association president,
also shared his appreciation and made a commitment to the AFP,
Australian Defence Force, and U.S. forces who enhanced schools in
"Let us make a pledge," Restar said. "We will protect and we will
maintain these facilities so that it will serve its purpose and that our
children will benefit from these facilities."
U.S. Navy Capt. James Meyer, commodore of the 30th Naval Construction
Regiment and the exercise's Combined-Joint Civil- Military Operations
Task Force commander, said the work the U.S., Philippine, and Australian
team accomplished during BK15 will have a long-lasting impact.
"The lives that have been touched will extend well beyond just the
people here today or the first group of students to attend class in the
new school house here," Meyer said. "It will last for generations to
come as we continue to celebrate and leave the legacy behind of what
these schools and our friendships represent."
During the ceremonies held in barangay San Rafael, a girl from the
elementary school shared her gratitude to everyone who participated in
"On behalf of the students of the San Rafael Elementary School we give
our warmest thanks to BK15 for doing a good job," she said. "It's one of
our inspirations to help other people."
Classrooms were also built at Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial Elementary School in Tapaz, Philippines.