[AT YOUR SERVICE]
OperationFor several members of the Pacific Army Reserve, active duty for the next several weeks is a chance to go home to the Philippines and perhaps, if time permits, see friends and relatives.
Exercise in Philippines will give
Army Reservists a chance to revisit
their roots and build goodwill
By Gregg K. Kakesako
For Sgt. 1st Class Thereso Bolo, it's "a sentimental return."
"That's where I raised my right hand and enlisted into the Army," said Bolo, referring to what was once Clark Air Base. "I was only 26 then," added Bolo, who spent 20 years on active duty before joining the Army Reserve here in 1986.
Born in Cebu, Bolo will be among the 50 Army Reservists from Hawaii participating in Balikatan 2001. They will be part of the more than 3,400 U.S. and Filipino personnel joining the 17th Balikatan exercise in a series that began in 1981.
This year's exercise will run from April 26 to May 10 with the 1,700 U.S. forces under the command of Col. Kirk Miyake, a 1968 Waimea High School graduate.
Miyake says his goal this reason for Balikatan, which means "shouldering the load together" in Tagalog, is "to demonstrate support of the Philippine government and mutual defense treaty we have with that country."
The recent multinational military efforts in East Timor as well the numerous past typhoon, flood and earthquake humanitarian assistance programs emphasize the continual need for more coalition efforts in the Pacific region.
To that end the United States and the Philippines renewed this joint training effort designed to improve the two countries' ability to deal with contingencies ranging from humanitarian and disaster assistance to peacekeeping operations and, finally, combat.
Balikatan is being held under the overall umbrella of a major regional training exercise, Team Challenge, that links two other military events, Tandem Thrust and Cobra Gold.
Tandem Thrust involves U.S. and Australian forces, while the U.S. training parts under Cobra Gold are Thailand and Singapore.
Six years ago, the Philippines ended Balikatan because of a dispute over the Visiting Forces Agreement. That agreement gives the United States jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel while on duty in a foreign country.
It was reinstated in May 1999 despite protests from the Catholic Church and other anti-U.S. elements in the Philippines.
Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Diomedio Villanueva recently said the exercise once again will be "geared toward disaster and socioeconomic activities," adding, "We veer from conflictlike situations."
Under the terms of that treaty, the United States is bound to come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of external aggression.
It is part of the U.S. commitments in the Pacific, where similar treaties and military exercises are held in Thailand under Cobra Gold, in Japan under Yama Sakura and in Singapore under Tiger Balm.
Under these training scenarios the two countries share and study the each other's tactics, techniques and procedures. Something the military calls "interoperability."
Miyake, who is currently deputy commander of all Army forces in Japan, said he was involved with the planning phase of Balikatan when he was working at Camp Smith in 1985-86.
"As the senior U.S. military official, my job this time is to ensure that the exercise is executed properly by all U.S. forces," said Miyake, whose brother, Russell, was finance director for the city.
Another old hand at Balikatan exercises is Col. David Crudo, staff pediatric physician at Tripler Army Medical center. This year's exercise will be his sixth, with the first being in 1991.
He will head a U.S. team of 26 doctors, nurses, veterinarians, medics and dentists which will be complemented by another 40 from the Philippines.
His teams will visit six villages in the provinces of Pampanga and Tralac on the island of Luzon from April 30 to May 10 with more than $100,000 worth of medical supplies.
"It's to build good will," said Crudo, "and to show that the U.S. military is friendly to the Philippines."
Based on his past Balikatan experiences, Crudo said that joint U.S.-Filipino medical teams can expect to treat minor infections and skin disorders, allergies and parasitic diseases, and perform minor surgery.
The Philippines, located 4,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, was a commonwealth of the United States until it won its independence in 1946. However, under the 1951 mutual defense treaty, the United States was allowed to maintain military bases throughout the country.
But in 1991 the Philippine Senate refused to renew the Military Bases Agreement, forcing the U.S. Navy to pull out of Subic Bay.
That same year, the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo destroyed much of Clark Air Base. Despite the loss of those two U.S. bases, the two countries continued to hold military exercises, and Navy warships still made port calls.
Lt. Col. Daniel Peters, engineer civic action task force commander from Hawaii, said Army Reservists from the 411th Engineer Battalion will be involved in building or rehabilitating school buildings in Pampanga and Tralac.
Peters said his team of carpenters, electricians and plumbers will be away from their civilian jobs for nearly three weeks and "understands the strain these deployments place on their bosses and their fellow co-workers who have to fill in."
Spc. Melanie Carlos had her military leave canceled because of the current teachers strike.
She is a special-education teacher at Kamaile Elementary School but, as a member of the Army Reserve's 322nd Civil Affairs Brigade, will spend the next few weeks as a linguist for the U.S. medical teams.
Spc. Danyanna Flores normally is an office worker with ABC stores, but when she dons her camouflage fatigues, she trades her calculator for a mason's trowel.
"I really wanted to get outdoors and do something different," said Flores, who joined the Army Reserve six years ago and opted to become a mason and not an office worker.
Her task with the 411th Engineers will be to build toilets for a school.
Gregg K. Kakesako can be reached by phone at 294-4075
or by e-mail at email@example.com.