In Indonesia, Bridge Building Starts With a Single Coconut
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
MEULABOH, Indonesia, Jan. 16, 2005 Every morning, a contingent of up to 50 Marines hits the beach here. They are there to assist in getting supplies ashore so they can be distributed to victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis.
Marine Sgt. Maj. David Bullock, with the 15th Marine
Expeditionary Unit, races Capt. Benny Fauzi of the Indonesian military to the
truck with boxes of bottled water. The two groups work to get the supplies that
are brought ashore in Meulaboh, Indonesia, by U.S. Marines out to the victims
of the Dec. 26 earthquake and resulting tsunami. Photo by Samantha L.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The scene rarely changes from morning to morning. It's sunny. It's hot. It's humid. And there are always two groups of people waiting for them: Local citizens still living in the area and members of the Indonesian military.
"The (Indonesian) Marines are very open-arms to us," said Marine Sgt. Maj. David Bullock with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "They know we're providing aid to the people of Indonesia."
The Indonesian military component is present to help keep local residents who are still living in the area behind an established perimeter. They, like the local people, also are interested in the daily deliveries of humanitarian supplies that come in by air-cushioned landing craft.
A portion of the deliveries are loaded into trucks and taken them to an Indonesian government direct distribution warehouse.
"The (Indonesian) military's been good with me helping control the crowds," Bullock said. "They've done what we ask. (If) we need to set up a perimeter, if I point out a spot, they'll stay there all day."
Though the relationship between the two militaries is friendly but professional, contact can be limited. But every once in a while, common ground emerges and a relationship grows stronger. Today, common ground was found in a coconut.
At mid-morning, one of the Indonesian servicemembers scaled a palm tree and dropped a few green coconuts. One of his colleagues on the ground looked at a Marine and pointed to one of the coconuts, indicating that the Marine should pick it up.
Before it was all over, Bullock was learning how to hack away the top part of the coconut to get to the milk. With that mission complete, it was time to unload the second landing craft of the day.
When the 35 pallets of supplies 20 with boxes of rations and 15 with boxes of bottled water were stacked on the beach, it was time to load those trucks. That's when it became apparent that teamwork not only builds bridges, but also moves dump trucks stuck in the sand.
Members of both militaries pitched in to get the truck back on the road. Once the truck was "unstuck," the two groups gave themselves a round of applause followed by a group picture.
Unfortunately, getting supplies from the beach to the truck was almost as difficult as getting the truck out of the sand. The distance between the two was sizeable. So, instead of risking getting stuck again, a relay line was formed until someone complained about being hot and tired.
Then, to the amusement of everyone on the beach, Bullock and Indonesian Capt. Benny Fauzi decided to make a point.
"Hot doesn't bother me," Fauzi yelled and headed for the supplies. Between the two of them, they double-timed three boxes of bottled water to the truck. The awe, mixed with laughter, created a bond as both sides pitched in and finished loading the truck.
The day ended with Bullock and Fauzi in an arm-wrestling match. The winner wasn't really clear and a rematch is imminent.
"What do I get if I win?" Fauzi asked.
To which Bullock replied, "My friendship."
Fauzi accepted with mock disappointment and began negotiating for a uniform. Ultimately, he settled for a T-shirt with Bullock's unit printed on it, but offered one of his uniforms in exchange.
A high-five and a handshake later, Bullock and Fauzi headed their separate ways, vowing to meet at the arm-wrestling chair the next day. Tables are hard to come by.
"He's a good guy," Bullock said as he headed for the helicopter that would take him back to the ship so he could rest up for the rematch.