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Mon, May 04, 2009

Marines Play Key Role In Balikatan Mission

During Balikatan ‘09, every member of every unit has a role to play. One of the most vital roles takes place on the flight line. The Marines of Marine Helicopter Squadron Medium (HMM-262) are responsible for service members participating in Balikatan getting equipment, supplies and transportation to provinces that can’t be reached by car.

“We provide a lifeline for the other forces to help them achieve mission accomplishment,” said Gunnery Sgt. James Allen, a quality assurance representative and squadron gunnery sergeant for HMM-262. “We also make sure very important personnel get to where they need to be.” While working here in the Philippines, the Marines have gotten to interact with the airmen of the Philippine Air Force, Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“The AFP airmen are very relaxed but they never fail to get the job done,” said Cpl. Ericson Montajez, a flight line mechanic with HMM-262. “They’re really friendly and easy to work with.” During breaks in their workday, the Filipino and U.S. troops continue their friendly relationship off the flight line. They enjoyed meals together as well as a few competitive games of basketball, Allen said.

“Our senior officers and enlisted service members often sit down with some of their senior members for meals and we just talk and relate,” he said. He added that their moments together taught him things beyond Balikatan.

“One thing I’ll take from working with the AFP is their appreciation for the simple things in life,” he said. “They don’t take what they have for granted and see so much in things that can seem so small to other people.” The Marines not only bonded with their Filipino comrades, but also strengthened their own unit’s cohesion.

“I got closer to the guys here than I would’ve back in the rear,” said Private First Class Michael Cassidy, an air framers mechanic with the unit.

In their spare time the unit continues basic Marine Corps training through Marine Corps Martial Arts courses, said Sgt. Earnest Chandler, an aviation supply specialist with the unit. Some of them were even awarded their brown belts. With each day, their unity grows stronger.

“What can we say, we’re just a well-oiled machine,” Allen said.

One of the unit’s highlights while in the Philippines was when they organized a search and rescue mission for high-ranking AFP officials that went down in a helicopter near Bagao.

“We sent two helicopters to search for the helicopter and some of our troops were personally thanked by the Philippines president,” said Allen.

Overall, HMM-262 has proven to be an important piece to the bilateral humanitarian Balikatan ‘09 and made their visit a long-lasting memory in the process.

Balikatan ’09 is a bilateral humanitarian assistance and training activity that promotes unity and readiness between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States. In the Bicol region, Philippine and U.S. military forces are constructing two wells and repairing two schools and two roads as part of Balikatan ‘09. They will also conduct free medical, dental, and veterinary clinics in the Bicol region. Efforts like this help ensure humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts are efficient and effective. Balikatan is a Tagalog word that means “shoulder-to-shoulder” and characterizes the philosophy and intent behind the mission. [ANN Salutes Lance Cpl. Antwain J. Graham, Marine Forces Pacific]



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