Pacific Angel: Engineers improve five Fijian schools

LAUTOKA, Fiji -- U.S. and Republic of Fiji engineers worked side-by-side with their Vanuatuan counterparts during Pacific Angel 17-3 July 11 to 24 at five sites in areas near Lautoka, Fiji, dedicating time and resources to quality of life and infrastructure improvement projects.

“Pacific Angel is all about coming together with our local Fijian military and working together with them to complete a mission here and practice our combined capabilities so we’re ready to respond if disaster ever strikes,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Steven Jones, the airfield maintenance NCO in charge at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Jones added this opportunity gives him and his engineers the experience needed to integrate seamlessly with their multilateral partners including their hosts, the Fijians and the Vanuatu engineers.

“These missions help us prepare so we know how to work with the local contractors and get local supply, we know how long it takes so if we had to come back here again in a time of need we would know what to expect when we got here,” Jones said adding that they’ve learned a lot from their multilateral counterparts as well as working together in a joint environment with their U.S. Army brethren.

Echoing Jones, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brad Munden, a construction supervisor with the 523rd Engineer Company at Schoefield Barracks, Hawaii, said, “We’ve had a great experience and we’ve learned a lot from not only working with the Air Force but also with our friends here in the region. We’ve all learned a lot from each, American, Fijian, Vanuatuan--they help us out with things we wouldn’t think of and it’s good to learn from them.”

Vanuatu Mobile Force Warrant Officer 2nd Class Donald Kilmam, an engineer and carpenter with the VMF Engineer Platoon in Port Villa, Vanatu, said he’s glad he’s here and experiencing how the U.S. and other regional countries work together in case of a natural disaster.

“It’s been really great because what I’ve learned here I’ll be able to take with me back to Vanuatu and help my country understand how we can help each other if a disaster were ever to occur in Vanuatu and so we know how to work with you guys,” Kilman said.

PACANGEL builds partnerships between regional nations by conducting multilateral humanitarian assistance and civil military operations, promoting regional military-civilian-nongovernmental organization cooperation and interoperability.

“This exercise helps us all understand how to cooperate with each other so we know the best ways to work together and move beyond a singular cultural tendency toward really blending the best of all involved nations and making each other stronger as one team.”

For the engineers, at their five school sites, it became more about the students than their work.

“Being a part of PACANGEL has made me feel great,” Jones concluded. “The kids coming up to you and saying, ‘thanks!’ really feels awesome and to know that we’re giving back to the kids makes it all worthwhile.”

PACANGEL 17-3 concluded with a closing ceremony at the first health services site in Tavua, Fiji, July 24. The engineers all felt a sincere sense of accomplishment in knowing their work meant such a significant difference for so many children. Their time spent rebuilding and renovating the quality of life fixtures in so many classrooms means a world of difference for the future leaders of Fiji.

“Thank you for caring so much for our people,” said Matthew Katanilla, a student at the Ratu Rasiadi School engineering site. “Please come back soon!”