By Sgt. 1st Class Wynn HokeJanuary 27, 2020
Civic Action Teams have been engaged on the Republic of Palau for 50 years. When, in 1969, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands requested assistance through the U.S. Department of Defense.
The current Army team, CAT Palau 84-06, is from the 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and is a part of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command. Their mission provides community construction projects, an apprenticeship program, community relations and a medical civic action program.
The first team to deploy to Palau was a Navy Seabee team in 1970. Later, the Air Force and Army would replace the Navy on rotations. Up until 2003, CATs from all three branches would help build not only trust, but communities within the Freely Associated States of Palau, Federation States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
In 2003, all regional CAT programs were closed except the one on Palau.
Today, The CAT program in Palau thrives on an island nation that welcomes the program's expertise, community service and deep long-standing ties to the region.
"The United States and Palau have a very unique relationship, a special relationship built on history and shared values," said Amy J. Hyatt, United States Ambassador to Palau. "Our combined interest is in helping with the development of the people and the country of Palau [and this] is where the Civic Action Team come in, working directly with the people and the government to promote development, to assist with it, and to work on projects that touch the lives of Palauans."
The CAT program supports U.S. Indo-Pacific Command cooperative engagement strategy with a history of shared core values, independence and resiliency.
"The Civic Actions Teams have been a long tradition," said, Secilil Eldebechel, Chief of Staff to the President of Palau. "When I joined the government and got to learn more and more about this partnership and how it all came about, I came to realize how this program has grown. It brought about a tremendous amount support and assistance to Palau's social and economic development."
A significant part of that social and economic growth comes from the Civic Action Team apprenticeship program.
"My favorite part of the Civic Action Team program is the apprentice program," said Hyatt. "I just love to highlight the fact that under this program, Palauans work right with Civic Action Team members to learn specific technical skills such as machinery operations, electrical, plumbing, medical assistant, and administrative instant. Palauans are actually receiving internationally recognized certifications. That is huge. They are gaining skills that will contribute to the development and wellbeing of Palau."
The Chief of Staff to the President of Palau agreed wholeheartedly with Ambassador Hyatt on the apprenticeship program.
"I know a few people, even some in my own village, that have gone through the apprenticeship program and from my knowledge, the before and after from when they took the training, I see a big change in their lifestyle, their behavior, their attitude towards certain things," said, Eldebechel. "I feel this program, they really have benefited from it, and I encourage them, their friends and young people to take on this training because it has contributed greatly."
Shawn Basilio, a mechanic apprentice now with the Army CAT program explained what led him to the program was the ability to get hands-on training.
"Some of the benefits that I get from the program is the ability to learn and work with a group of other mechanics and mentors in teaching me a lot of hands-on ways in learning about mechanics." said, Basilio.
The mechanic apprenticeship program with the CAT program allows apprentices to learn and work on small engines such as lawnmowers to heavy equipment engines such as loaders and graders.
For Basilio, the apprenticeship should allow him to be able to open his own mechanics shop on Palau and continue to give back to his community.
The name Palau essentially means village. When you think of a village, you think about close, tight-knit family groups that look out for each other. The word civic is defined as "the responsibility of a citizen."
Civic Action Teams play an important role in citizenry and building trust and positive influences. To do this, the CAT program engages Palauans in several different forums.
"The Civic Action Team has a host of different community relations programs," said, 1st Lt. Kirsten Walsh, CAT Palau 84-06 officer in charge. "Those range from weekly programing like our "house of pain" community fitness program and library reading to children at the Koror Public Library and Melekeok Elementary School with the Ministry of Education as well as night markets on payday weekends where we hand out forms where Palauans can apply for project requests."
Palauans believe that child education development will help build a positive future for Palau. The CAT program has helped, and continues play an important role in the Palau education system.
"The CAT members have been instrumental," said, Andrew Tabelaul, Director of Education Administration, Palau Ministry of Education. "The CAT program's work has improved the schools conditions to increase learning. The children are happy because the make the schools a home away from home. All the work the CAT does with the community also benefits the schools. Because if you create a better community, you create better schools within the community."
Walsh and her team also headline a weekly two hour radio show on 87.9 Eco Paradise FM. One hour is dedicated to medical and health awareness and one hour for current and future CAT projects. The 2-hour show keeps the citizens of Palau aware and allows them to call in with questions.
PAST AND FUTURE
Dense jungles on the islands of Palau, Peleliu and Ngear are dotted with World War II battle sites and memorabilia. Each serve as a historic reminder of how dedicated resolve of allies with a common purpose and shared vision can endure.
Civic Action Teams for 50 years have continued to remind and help build on the resolve displayed during WWII.
"The presence of the CAT program here in Palau on a 24 hour basis is very significant" said, Eldebechel. "The Palauan community feels a sense of security even though they are not hear to provide defense. It's really their presence that makes a lot of difference."
The Civic Action Team's presence can be felt everywhere you go on Palau. It is hard not to miss the military uniform, but most importantly, Palauans stop and thank the teams for the help they have provided to the community.
"[CAT program] make huge contributions to our relationship and the development of Palau," said, Hyatt. "If you look around in this country, the shops and the restaurants, you will find pictures of Civic Action Teams through the years. That is because they make such a great impact on the people here. It's a people-to-people grass roots effort that cannot be beat."
Ambassador Hyatt emphasized that she loves the program and hopes that the CAT program will grow and continue to make an impact in Palau.
The Palauan government echo's the sentiments of the ambassador.
"On behalf of the government of Palau, I think the Palauan people are very much appreciative for the fact that we have had this partnership for long," said, Eldebechel. "[This program] has help many people. Whether a big or small job, technical or even medical assistance."
The Chief of Staff of Palau emphasized the importance of the CAT program and partnership by saying "I feel this partnership can grow stronger if we continue to collaborate and find ways to make the most of CAT programs time here in Palau and the participation of the Palauan people."
Under the Compacts, the U.S. is responsible for security and defense matters in and relating to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI). Currently, the Civic Action Team program only resides in the Republic of Palau.