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JBER personnel at Exercise Balikatan help construct schools

U.S. Air Force airmen, from the 673rd Civil Engineer Group, pose for a photo with residents of barangay San Rafael, in a newly built classroom during exercise Balikatan 2015’s San Rafael Elementary School ribbon cutting, in San Rafael, Palawan, Philippines, April 28. Construction of the BK15 humanitarian civic assistance projects started this past March with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, U.S. forces and Australian forces working shoulder-to-shoulder to construct a two-classroom building for Santa Lourdes National High School, Sabang Elementary School, San Rafael High School and San Rafael Elementary School. This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal/Released)

U.S. Air Force airmen, from the 673rd Civil Engineer Group, pose for a photo with residents of barangay San Rafael, in a newly built classroom during exercise Balikatan 2015’s San Rafael Elementary School ribbon cutting, in San Rafael, Palawan, Philippines, April 28. Construction of the BK15 humanitarian civic assistance projects started this past March with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, U.S. forces and Australian forces working shoulder-to-shoulder to construct a two-classroom building for Santa Lourdes National High School, Sabang Elementary School, San Rafael High School and San Rafael Elementary School. This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal/Released)

PALAWAN, Philippines -- Philippine, U.S. and Australian forces joined barangay, meaning village in Filipino, communities including San Rafael, Santa Lourdes and Sabang to turn over brand new school buildings to elementary and high schools during exercise Balikatan 2015 April 28 and 29.

This year marked the 31st iteration of the exercise, an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement.

Construction of these BK15 humanitarian civic assistance projects started this past March with Santa Lourdes National High School, Sabang Elementary School, San Rafael High School and San Rafael Elementary School each receiving a two-classroom building.

In addition, each site was able to use excess engineering materials to build things such as a basketball court and a perimeter fence to further improve the school grounds.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Gates of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron, a heating, ventilation, air conditioning craftsman, helped construct the classroom facility at San Rafael Elementary School and feels a sense of pride after completing the project.

"When we first got here it was a lot of beams and wood with pieces everywhere," Gates said. "To come this far and see a finished product through sweat, blood and everything like that with my brothers from the Philippines is amazing. What this building means to the community is beyond any type of expression that we can explain. This idea of these kids being able to have a better future that we and my Filipino brothers provided them is ... there are no words."

A building marker was unveiled at the end of each ceremony and each classroom was blessed by Armed Forces of the Philippines Father Lt. Col. Bernie E. Lingcong, Western Command command chaplain.

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Paul Brier, 4th Marine Division commander, joined AFP leadership and community leaders in San Rafael to cut the ceremony ribbons at their elementary and high school.

Brier also gave his thanks to the barangay of San Rafael for the chance to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the AFP as well as their community.

"We greatly appreciate the opportunity to do this," Brier said. "We look forward to these opportunities in the future."

Rex Restar, Barangay San Rafael Parent Teacher Association president, also shared his appreciation and made a commitment to the AFP, Australian Defence Force and U.S. forces who enhanced schools in Palawan.

"Let us make a pledge," Restar said. "We will protect and we will maintain these facilities so that it will serve its purpose and that our children will benefit from these facilities."

U.S. Navy Capt. James Meyer, commodore of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment and the exercise's Combined-Joint Civil- Military Operations Task Force commander, said the work the U.S., Philippine and Australian team accomplished during BK15 will have a long-lasting impact.

"The lives that have been touched will extend well beyond just the people here today or the first group of students to attend class in the new school house here," Meyer said. "It will last for generations to come as we continue to celebrate and leave the legacy behind of what these schools and our friendships represent."

During the ceremonies held in barangay San Rafael, a girl from the elementary school shared her gratitude to everyone who participated in BK15.

"On behalf of the students of the San Rafael Elementary School we give our warmest thanks to BK15 for doing a good job," she said. "It's one of our inspirations to help other people."
Classrooms were also built at Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial Elementary School in Tapaz, Philippines.
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