ZAMBALES PROVINCE, Philippines - School officials hosted groundbreaking ceremonies to commemorate the construction of new classrooms at Pundakit Integrated School and Angel C. Manglicmot Memorial School March 11.

The two schools need additional classroom space because of their increasing student populations. Members of both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. armed forces are doing the construction as part of Balikatan 2011.

The total number of students in both schools combined exceeds 600, with each school expecting that number to grow in the coming academic year. To support this increase in students, the Philippine and U.S. military are constructing four additional classrooms.

"Children will need the school for addition in the coming years," said Gary C. Sebastian, principal of the Angel C. Manglicmot Memorial School. "We are so thankful (that) the government has prepared this and provided people and money to support this project."

The 2011 Balikatan exercise is the 27th in a series of combined, joint efforts between the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines of both the Philippines and United States. The goal of these exercises is to maintain military readiness through training and relationship-building between the two countries.

"Balikatan is to share ideas and learn from each other," said 2nd Lt. Arthur Gabasa, an officer assigned to the 355th Aviation Wing of the Philippine Air Force and the officer in charge at the Pundakit worksite. "The way we accomplish that here is working hard together, which strengthens our relationship."

Service members from both countries have been put into teams at each construction site so they can see how each operate, said Spc. Dean McLaughlin, a carpentry and masonry engineer assigned to 2nd Platoon, 643rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade.

"We had no problems coming together with the (AFP) engineers and it's been fantastic to learn some of their ways to build with different tools than we use," said McLaughlin.

As the projects have proceeded, the U.S. Soldiers are not the only ones experiencing new things.

"We have been able to learn some different techniques to construct stucco and masonry," said Gabasa. He also described the efforts of both militaries to engage the local communities. "We have been having friendship basketball games with the community so we can become closer to the people."

It is not just the servicemembers who have noticed the cohesion that has been built between the two countries.

"The militaries have a good relationship," said Sebastian. "Their integration on this project has been excellent and they are very compatible."

For the U.S. Soldiers, it's also an opportunity to learn about another culture.

"We are so thankful to the local government for allowing us to be part of the community and work alongside the (AFP)," said McLaughlin.

As both school and military officials pushed a ceremonial shovel into the dirt to mark the beginning of the construction at Angel C. Manglicmot Memorial School, students, families and servicemembers watched and interacted with each other. Local families offered fresh fruit. Children smiled as basketballs were handed out by Filipino and American soldiers.

Handshakes and waves were exchanged between locals and soldiers, each thanking the other for their hospitality, said McLaughlin.

"This is an amazing opportunity that not many people will get a chance to experience," he said.