Marines and Sailors Feed on CARAT's Goodwill Projects
By Staff Sgt. Jason Bortz, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
ASEMBAGUS, Indonesia, Aug. 7, 2000 Summer 2000 has been like no other for many of the Marines and sailors who've been part of Landing Force Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training.
Combat engineers Lance Cpl. William C. Heller and Pfc. Robin W. Hicks of Landing Force Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, III Marine Expeditionary Force, help rebuild a grammar school in Asembagus, Indonesia, as part of CARAT 2000. U.S. Marines and sailors taking part in CARAT are spending four months training with the armed forces of six Southeast Asian countries. Photo by Sgt. John G. Vannucci, USMC.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
LF CARAT, from III Marine Expeditionary Force, is scheduled to visit six Southeast Asian countries over 120 days this summer to conduct bilateral training with each host nation. Indonesia is the third country they've visited, and the training here specifically centered on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief readiness. Earlier visits were to Thailand and the Philippines.
The week concluded with a one-day combined exercise with a company of Indonesian Marines. The Marines' relief missions in the wake of a "national natural disaster" were to clear local villages' irrigation systems and to distribute food to "victims." One hundred local villagers volunteered to be evacuees for the training and were given a short ride on a naval landing craft.
In each country so far, the Marines and sailors have scheduled at least one community improvement project. In this Indonesian village, for instance, the goodwill projects were a perfect week of training for the Marines' combat engineer platoon -- backed by about 400 volunteers who spent off-duty time to help repair and paint an elementary school and town hall. A medical-dental civic action team also treated over 2,200 Indonesians. The effort was the most ambitious to date.
"What made this different … is that we had a whole week to work instead of just a day," said Petty Officer 1st class Jesse McDaniel, a religious program specialist. "We made a much bigger impact."
At the school, the engineers and volunteers painted badly faded walls, patched holes in walls and repaired playground equipment. They ran electrical wiring for lights, laid floor tiles and repaired the roofs.
"We're having a lot of fun here," said Staff Sgt. Roger Reed, platoon sergeant. "Once everything was done and cleaned up, the school looked really nice. You could really see the appreciation of the people by the look on their faces."
One of the biggest improvements the engineers made to the school was to build a water tower with water basins, complete with running water. To provide the water to the tower, the engineers put in a new electric water pump at the local well.
Sailors from the landing ships USS Mount Vernon and USS Germantown, local contractors and Indonesian Marines were also on hand to help the engineers.
"The sailors have really helped out," said 1st Lt. Chad Darnell, engineer platoon commander. "Everyone just kind of picked what they were good at."
Across town, more combat engineers worked on the town hall. Working in grueling heat, the engineers completed minor repairs to the building and built a septic tank and an outdoor washroom.
"It's hard work, but worth it," said Petty Officer 3rd class Julio Gamboa, the platoon's corpsman.
The engineers even recruited some of the local children to help at the town hall, thanks to Cpl. Bryce Dodd, who came up with a swinging dirt sifter. The makeshift device was easy to use and apparently an irresistible lure.
"Once the kids saw the Marines doing it, they wanted to do it," Dodd said. "It freed up the Marines to do other work."
When the Marines and sailors weren't working, they spent time with the children.
"I'm glad I'm here," said supply clerk Cpl. Corey Labbe. "I think the kids appreciate us coming here and helping."
"The kids don't speak English, but it's still fun," warehouseman Cpl. Anthony Parker said. "I taught them how to play tic-tac- toe, and they taught me how to count in their language. It's like a culture shock, though. I never imagined I'd be here. They make do without the things we take for granted."
When the week was over, the Americans distributed 200 gift bags of containing rice, sugar, noodles, salt and cooking oil to the local villages. The Marines and sailors then said goodbye to their new friends.
"This shouldn't be a once-a-year thing," said chief cook Sgt. Dustin Cook. "We should do this more."
"Seeing the look on people's faces makes me think combat engineers have the most rewarding job in the Marine Corps," said Sgt. Jashon Richardson, a heavy equipment operator.
(This is a composite of articles by Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jason J. Bortz, who is on duty with Landing Force Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training.)