CANDELARIA, Zambales, Philippines - Soldiers from the United States and Republic of the Philippines Army are teaming up to add new classrooms to Topes Elementary School in Zambales Province. The official Topes Elementary School groundbreaking took place on March 10 and construction is expected to last about a month.

Topes Elementary is one of five schools in the region where U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines members will be working together on construction projects that provide a much-needed service to the local community, as well as improve cooperation between the two countries.

Topes Elementary was identified as needing additional space because of its rapidly increasing student population, said school principal Maribel M. Edangal.

The project at Topes offers a cross-training experience between the two militaries that will enhance future construction projects.

"We haven't done a lot of construction with concrete, so this is a great opportunity for us to learn the techniques of the Philippine Army," said 1st. Lt Brandy Kinstle, 3rd Platoon Leader, 643rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, which is based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

While the Filipino servicemembers show their U.S. counterparts how they use concrete in their construction, they will also receive instruction on how to use the U.S. equipment, said Kinstle.

"We will be learning how to use the tools the U.S. Soldiers brought with them since it will make the project easier," said 1st Lt. Reynald Monredondo, a Filipino officer assigned to the 54th Engineer Brigade and the officer in charge of the Topes site.

Exercise Balikatan 2011 increases Philippine and U.S. armed forces ability to respond quickly and work together to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crisis that threaten public health and safety.

Servicemembers from both countries quickly bonded as they prepped the site for the beginning of construction. Echoing the sentiment of the phrase "Balikatan," Pvt. Juncky Hidalgo, an infantryman assigned to the Philippine Army's 24th Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division said, "We will build a good friendship while building together."

"The community is very cooperative and happy," Edangal said. "We're very excited to see what the armies do since they are working so fast together."