By 1st Lt. MARK SAGVOLDAugust 5, 2019
LABASA, Fiji - Primary school children welcomed the visiting team of U.S. Army civil affairs Soldiers Aug. 1, 2019, to their schools around Labasa, Fiji as a part of the community outreach portion of the Pacific Pathways Exercise Cartwheel 2019.
Soldiers from the 351st Civil Affairs Command, conducted the community outreach by visiting primary schools and making group presentations on the importance of proper hand washing techniques and healthy eating habits, as well as making donations of classroom materials in the form of white boards.
Exercise Cartwheel is a U.S. Army Pacific sponsored military training, and community engagement event under the Pacific Pathways program. The exercise demonstrates the U.S. Army's enduring commitments to Fiji, and promotes cooperation and interoperability with our partners in a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Beyond the military-to-military training of the exercise, one of the primary purposes of Pacific Pathways and Exercise Cartwheel, is the human relationships aspect. Civil outreach assists in achieving this specific exercises goal, which is strengthening the United States and Fiji's nation-to-nation relationship.
"The best part of the civic visits is to see the excitement on the children's faces. The children don't know what to expect at first, but most of the excitement is from Army Soldiers coming in their uniforms," said Iliseva Volai, acting division education officer in the north region. "In my five years in this office, we have never had anything like this. Just the thought of the U.S Army coming in uniforms is exciting and an experience for the children. I think this is the start of a really good joint-exercise, not just the military part of it, but the human part as well."
Since arriving in Labasa, the civil and community outreach team has been focused on its mission of visiting eight schools and completing the donations of classroom materials. More importantly, the teams are building lasting relationships with the community and finding their work rewarding.
"Anytime we go to another country to train we also like to give back whenever we can, by doing a civic or community engagement. Any of the engagements we do is going to be essential for the Pacific Pathways Cartwheel Exercise line of effort because it shows the Pacific region that we are here, and we are here to help and work with our partners," said U.S. Army Maj. Kellie Landauer, U.S. Army Pacific exercises planner.
In one of the classroom presentations, students were presented with a practical hand washing exercise to show how difficult it is to remove all the dirt and germs that are typically found on their hands. The presenter, U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Gavin Devries, who is a civil affairs officer and also a water engineer in his civilian profession at San Jose Water in California, uses a special gel and ultra violet light in order to demonstrate the importance of proper hand washing.
"A lot of these kids are already familiar with these basic concepts, I'm just getting at the heart of why that's important for the individual, and also for the community. It helps break the spread of communicable diseases," Devries said.
As the U.S. seeks to maintain its positive presence in the region through Pacific Pathways exercises, the civil affairs team is looking for opportunities to make a difference in the future events like Exercise Cartwheel. The team is taking every opportunity to engage with local officials and find any way they can lend a hand. More importantly, individuals on the team are enjoying their work.
"The best part of the civic visits is just interacting with the children. It's fun to engage with the kids and just have that time to teach them something practical; something they can learn and take lessons from. Then also take the time to show them that we are people too, and that we are all in this together," Devries said.
Follow the training and progress of U.S. Army and Fiji RFMF on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at https://www.dvidshub.net/feature/Cartwheel