13th MEU(SOC), Tarawa ARG conduct humanitarian assistance operation in East Timor

16 Sep 2000 | SSgt. Stephen B. Gude 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Viewed on a map, East Timor looks like an ancient arrowhead from a long-gone culture.

But in an effort to help keep the East Timorean culture from becoming an artifact of the democratic process because of civil strife, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group conducted a humanitarian assistance operation here Sept. 14-16.

The operation, includes Marines and Sailors of 13th MEU(SOC) painting schools and churches, delivering food and building supplies, setting up basketball rims and performing medical and dental tasks.

"Our efforts are geared toward helping the people of East Timor rebuild parts of their infrastructure," said Col. Christopher J. Gunther, commanding officer, 13th MEU(SOC).  "This rebuilding will help the people gain the confidence they need to stabilize their situation and move forward with democracy."

At one school in Dili, Cpl. William Cahrier, 22, from Glousteo, Ohio, and a member of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39, sweated as he painted the inside of a dusty, mauve-colored room. 

"Seeing how it looks here and the situation these people are in," he said, while stroking white paint over the walls, "this is not only something we should have done, but something we have to do.  We have the ability to help, and that's what we're doing.

"Especially here at the school," he continued.  "It's for the kids.  How can you not help kids?"

As it turned out, the kids helped themselves.  First one, then four, then seven, and finally about 15 East Timorese children grabbed paint brushes and rollers, and gleefully swathed white paint all over the walls - and themselves. 

"The kids are great," said LtCmdr. Hal Okey, 33, of Schuyler, Neb.  LtCmdr. Okey was in charge of the painting at the school.  "They're full of energy, and it just makes it that much easier for us to get into it."

The 11-year Navy veteran said his team of Sailors and Marines would paint the insides of the building first, then get to the outside. 

"We've got a couple of days, so we should be able to finish it," LtCmdr. Okey said.
Meanwhile, at the Baino (check this word) Clinic on the east side of Dili, the country's capitol, doctors, dentists and medical specialists received the chance to practice their professions.

While helping organize the clinic's pharmacy, Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Jones, a 38-year-old hospital corpsman from Los Angeles, discovered that communications was the key to working together with the East Timorese.

"It took a while, but we managed to find out they want it organized by category instead of alphabetized, like in the States," he said.  "There wasn't a problem with quantity either; they have quite a bit here, and we brought some stuff as well."
That quantity meant there was a lot to do.

"I think we'll be able to knock it out," HM1 Jones said.
Meanwhile, at the dental clinic, one dentist got the chance to use his skills, and also check the condition of the East Timorese.

"What we're doing here are exams and extractions," said Navy Lt. Joseph Mullins, a 28-year old dental officer from Moundsville, W.V.  Despite the lack of care, the East Timorese suffer through, and Lt. Mullins didn't think they were doing too badly with their oral hygiene.

"What I'm seeing here are the same types of cases I've seen (back home)," he said.  "Despite their hardships, the people are not doing that badly on hygiene.  Still, they're very appreciative."

Lieutenant Mullins volunteered to come out, not just to practice his dental skills, but to do something for the common good.

"I enjoy using my career and profession to help others - what better way to do it than getting people out of dental pain."

Relieving pain and strife is nothing new to a special operations capable MEU like 13th MEU (SOC), and in doing so, it ensures the well being of people wherever the MEU stops.

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit