U.S. Soldiers forge new friendships in Indonesia
Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, and Lt. Gen. Budiman, Training and Doctrine commander for the Indonesian National Armed Forces, review the troops at the closing ceremony of Operation Garuda Shield 2010, a humanitarian and peacekeeping training exercise.

BANDUNG, Indonesia (June 28, 2010) -- "What we leave behind will have a positive lasting impact," said Col. Tony Diaz, the U.S. commander for this year's fourth annual Garuda Shield 2010, which drew to a close June 22.

The exercise ended with a ceremony at Indonesia's Infantry Training Center, in the District of Cipatat, with U.S. Army Pacific Commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon and Lt. Gen. Budiman, the Training and Doctrine Commander for the Indonesian Army.

Garuda Shield 2010 hosted five other nations including Bangladesh, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, and Nepal in peacekeeping training for U.N. recognition, which encompassed role playing by senior leaders in a command post exercise, and security controls practiced by the nations' various armed forces in the field training exercise.

"Exercises like Garuda Shield better prepare us to address both traditional dilemmas and unconventional threats that transcend national borders," said Mixon, in explaining the purpose for the training. "Indonesia is a key partner nation that is taking an increasing role as a regional leader, and its armed forces continue to support ongoing peacekeeping efforts throughout the world."

Indonesia currently deploys thousands of troops to peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and the Congo.

Garuda Shield also provided humanitarian civic assistance, which benefited an estimated 250 households in the villages of Marga Mulya and Nyomplong. The project sites sit adjacent to the training center less than five miles away.

Engineers from the 797th Engineer Company -- 21 Reserve Soldiers from Guam -- joined with 89 Soldiers from the 9th and 3rd Engineering battalions of the TNI-AD to build a community center, baby clinic and open air amphitheatre. The HCA projects in 2009 are being used for baby care, dental care, and pre-school classes.

"We went out into the communities of Marga Mulya and Nyomplong to seek input," said Diaz, comparing the condition of the villages in Indonesia to the quality of life in the United States 100 years ago. "We asked what the communities needed. And leaders in the community would say that they would need such things as a place for women to wash laundry. So, we dug a well. In fact one of the village men dug the well by hand."

Ron O'Brien, the lead U.S. Army Pacific planner said that contracting allowed the engineers to build more than the projects that were planned before the exercise began in late May. Dollars were stretched twice as far as in previous years, according to O'Brien, so that the engineers were able to add a bath house, walkways and playgrounds to the list of projects already on the slate. "It's important for Hawaii to know what their Soldiers do," he said. "Those buildings will be there a long time."

Diaz added that the structures were made from Indonesian designs.

While the engineers built, the 9th Mission Support Command provided administrative support and the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team managed guidance on the lanes for the field exercise at the infantry training center.

"It's also important for people to know that an exercise of this magnitude requires funding from many sources to ensure success," O'Brien said. "USARPAC and the Pacific Command provided the bulk of the funding, while the Asia Pacific Regional Initiative funds paid for U.N. subject matter experts, which injected realism into the command post exercise."

As the nearly 160 U.S. Soldiers headed home, they took with them the memories of working together with their counterparts, and getting to know them as friends. Less than 24 hours before the closing ceremony, Mixon and other dignitaries had attended a dedication ceremony at the baby clinic.

Nearby, the Indonesian National Armed Forces or TNI were conducting a medical readiness exercise, at a clinic built in 2009. Tents were erected to shade more than a thousand village residents seeking treatment for their health concerns.

Diaz remarked that the structures from previous years continue to stand. He gestured to O'Brien and added that they had a chance to visit the year-old community center.

"The last time, we dropped by, the women were using it for a flea market," he said. "In fact, the mayor of the village had to schedule events; it got to be so popular. We see that it's being used as a preschool, for meetings, a wedding hall, and a recreation facility where they can play chess and checkers."

Ratih, 43, a resident in Marga Mulya, has a house that stands mere feet from the new community center. "Me and my family won't have to go far for meeting friends," she said smiling.

Capt. Alejandro Buniag, the commander for the 797th, pointed out that many of the infantry soldiers serving in the TNI-AD live in the same villages and have a vested interest in improving their communities. "So, there's a connection with the community," he said. "Even the people of the community know what it means. I watched as even the oldest man moved stones and materials to help us."

Siti Aminah, one of the leaders in the community, said its people feel obligated to help with manpower. She spent a lot of time knocking on doors, but didn't find any trouble finding help. "It's all volunteer-based," she said. "As part of the community, we assist with construction. People understand what it's for and gladly help."

The engineers shared that sense of community, bonding through the experience. They were laying the foundation of friendship, brick by brick, securing that friendship by pounding nails into wood frames. They talked, not only about different methods of construction, but of life and family.

Lt. Yudo, who headed the TNI's engineer contingent, said there are different options for doing things - some things were done by hand instead of using tools. And despite the language barriers, the Soldiers learned new handshakes and words in Bahasa, the various dialogues in Indonesia. Yudo said he relied on his experience of a year living and working in the Congo in 2006-07.

"We fixed the road, airfield and base camp," he said. "I find this exercise using the same kind of coordination."

With plans for an exercise in Bogor next year, the buzz from Soldiers was about coming back next year. Mixon addressed it at the closing ceremony. "Our countries continue to demonstrate the willingness to develop unified responses and bring together diverse governmental agencies and military capabilities to work closely on a range of shared interests," he said.

And the result is that many of the Soldiers look forward to seeing their friends again.

Page last updated Mon June 28th, 2010 at 14:57