SANGA-SANGA, Philippines -- Marines and Sailors from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Naval Expeditionary Strike Group One landed in the Philippines to support a humanitarian assistance operation in cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other non-government organizations.
The two-day operation brought the 13th MEU warriors to the small villages of Batu-Batu and Sanga-Sanga on the island of Tawi-Tawi, in the tropical jungle regions of the Tawi-Tawi Province, near the Malaysian border.
In Batu-Batu, MEU Service Support Group-13 and ESG-1 doctors and dentist along with Marines from MSSG-13 and Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, docked landing craft units at a local pier, designated as a naval base, and began off-loading supplies and transporting them to the humanitarian assistance site, a small elementary school.
Villagers lined the dirt roads along the route, waving to the unfamiliar members of the relief force.
A massive crowd gathered at the school, and servicemembers didn’t hesitate in setting up field-expedient examination rooms and a pharmacy.
“This is an excellent opportunity to exercise what we were trained to do,” said Ensign Fernando Patron, a doctor from Naval Fleet Surgical Team-3. The Los Angeles native pulled nearly 100 teeth in Batu-Batu, but felt the operation benefited a worthy cause.
“This gives us the rare opportunity to help these people out,” he said.
During the evolution patients were evaluated individually by various relief personnel and given proper medical and dental assistance according to their symptoms. Translators worked throughout the day communicating between the villagers and medical personnel, who treated patients for ailments such as malaria, urinary tract infections and upper respiratory infections.
Nurbert M. Sahali, the mayor of Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi, said the HAO was a “really big break” for the local citizens.
“Our municipality is mostly fifth-class,” he said. “They can’t afford this kind of help. Hopefully, in the future, you’ll come again.”
After providing care for more than 1,300 patients, the relief effort team regrouped and marched out of town with villagers smiling and waving along the way.
During the second day of the operation, the relief group departed the Tarawa via helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-163 (reinforced), the Aviation Combat Element of the 13th MEU(SOC).
Landing at a small airstrip, designated as a Philippine air force base, U.S. forces were once again greeted by Filipino Marines, and transported to Mindinao State University in Sanga-Sanga.
Much of the same relief was provided, with overwhelming support from a non-government relief organization and security from Filipino Marines.
Citizens of Sanga-Sanga welcomed the effort with smiles, and waved to ESG and MEU forces, saying “Good morning, sir,” to nearly every passing individual.
Students from the university were also on scene, and took the rare opportunity to converse with the Americans, asking questions about culture, music and Hollywood.
In the afternoon 13th MEU (SOC) commander Col. James K. LaVine was invited to lunch at the Sanga-Sanga Marine Corps Base, where he and his staff were treated to a meal and discussed the 13th MEU’s capabilities and organizational structure.
By the end of the day, the relief effort provided care for nearly 1,440 patients, including 300 children.
Navy Lt. j.g. Kevin Jane, a Long Beach, Calif., native, and public affairs officer from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, said based on the turnout alone, the mission was a success.
“(The locals) have all been very responsive, and they have embraced this.”
According to Lt. Jackie Carter, engineering officer and site commander, “This was really one of those things that everybody helped out.”
Carter, a Rifle, Colo., native, said that by integrating Filipino forces, non-government organizations, ESG-1 and 13th MEU(SOC) capabilities, the mission, though exhausting for some, reached it’s maximum potential for success.
“If we were to do something like this, I would highly recommend working with (local) forces,” she added.
Carter also stressed the satisfaction of the mission despite the long hours and sweat.
“Even though it was hot and we were tired, it was very rewarding and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
For more information about the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), visit the unit’s Web site at www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.