Balikatan Troops Spread Goodwill to Philippine People

SORSOGON PROVINCE, Republic of the Philippines - The Medical Civil Action Projects of Balikatan 2009 have attracted local citizens from all over the Bicol region of the Philippines. Each person arrived with a story to tell.

From the heartwarming account of a loveable mascot and her puppies to the moving tale of a woman's long journey from Manila just to seek medical treatment, Balikatan has proven to be more than a medical mission... it is a magnet for inspiring anecdotes.

Tom is a mother of five children, all of which stay very attached to her. It was time for the family to get a checkup together. But this family wasn't a typical family in the Bicol region because it was a family of golden retrievers.

Tom is the mascot of the 7th Scout Ranger Company, 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, Southern Command, Philippine Army, Armed Forces of the Philippines. She was brought to the veterinarians at the MEDCAP site in Juban, Sorsogon province along with her puppies to be treated for worms.

"She is an important part of our company; she's like family," said Private First Class Gary Maghanoy, a scout ranger with 7th SRC. "We want her to be with us for as long as possible."

According to veterinarians, Tom and her puppies were one of their most memorable patients.

"The puppies definitely drew a crowd and brought a lot of life to our station, so it really made things interesting," said U.S. Army Maj. David Cox, a veterinarian from Japan District Veterinary Command.

Puppies weren't the only story of the day. Two cousins living in Sorsogon province came to the MEDCAP together to get dental treatment. The younger cousin, Serome Espela, 16, was nervous during his tooth extraction. So the older cousin, Chito Heata Sr., 19, who was sitting next to him during the procedure, comforted Espela. He reached over and held Espela's hand for a moment to assure him he would be okay.

With that brief gesture, the cousins showed the dentist a sample of the Bicol people's heart and brotherhood towards one another.

"I thought it was very noble for him to hold his cousin's hand like that, because in a small way, it shows you what kind of people live here," said U.S. Navy Lt. David Hwang, a dentist from 11th Dental Company, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. "Knowing that makes it all the more pleasant to be a part of this mission."

Daisy Montez, a local citizen of Juban, arrived at the optometry station of the MEDCAP site, uncertain whether the doctors could help her or not.

Montez's vision was far more skewed than most people. According to U.S. Navy Lt. Mary Linnell, an optometrist at the MEDCAP, Montez's prescription did not exist in a single pair of glasses.

But they were determined to find a solution, so Linnell decided to try something beyond her usual work methods.She took two pairs of glasses, which together created the prescription to correct Montez's vision. Montez was ecstatic because she said it was the first time she could see clearly in years.

"No one will ever know how grateful I am for the militaries services," Montez said.

Most of the patients who came to get treatment were citizens of the local community, but Sheila Arevalo traveled from Manila to receive surgery on a cyst growing under her eyelid.

"It was worth the chance to get help, so I didn't care how far I had to go," said Arevalo.

Her mother and sister, who are both citizens of Sorsogon, met her at the MEDCAP to console her through her operation.

Arevalo said it was not just her own ailment that brought her to the site, but her desire to support the joint-armed forces participating during Balikatan 2009.

"It is a pleasure to have the U.S. Armed forces here because this community suffers from poverty and many people can't afford medicine," Arevalo said. "I wish they could stay and continue to bring their good will to this place; God knows we need it"

The MEDCAP projects are a joint-force humanitarian missions being conducted in the Bicol region throughout Balikatan 2009.

Balikatan 2009 is a bilateral humanitarian assistance and training activity that promotes unity and readiness between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States. In the Bicol region, Philippine and U.S. military forces are constructing two wells and repairing two schools and two roads as part of Balikatan 2009. They will also conduct free medical, dental, and veterinary clinics in the Bicol region. Efforts like this help ensure humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts are efficient and effective. Balikatan is a Tagalog word that means "shoulder-to-shoulder" and characterizes the philosophy and intent behind the mission.

Page last updated Tue April 28th, 2009 at 18:31