Saturday, June 27, 2009

13th MEU volunteers at Thai school

Story and photos by Lance Cpl. Megan E. Sindelar

PHUKET, Thailand—Marines and sailors from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit came together in Phuket, Thailand for a community relations (COMREL) project located at the Baan Klong Sai School, June 27.

As the three ships, USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS Comstock (LSD 45) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18), ported together in Phuket, Marines volunteered to spend one of their liberty days painting a school, interacting with children and sharing a traditional Thai lunch.

“I think the COMREL to Baan Klong Sai School was a big success,” said Navy Lt. Harold B. Woodruff, chaplain for Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th MEU. “The effect of fresh coats of paint on the classrooms was transformative, and the time spent with the children and staff gives a valuable and unique look into the local culture.”

Woodruff continued by saying he thinks COMRELs have a positive effect on both the Marines and sailors, by giving them the opportunity to do something good that is different and perhaps more tangible than their usual duties. He also said it allows them to see what life is really like in the countries they visit.

“Too often all they see is the artificial, contrived materialism and luxury of the tourist centers,” said Woodruff. “COMRELs obviously have a positive effect on the local community by allowing the locals to get to know American servicemen personally, seeing another side of them that doesn’t meet the stereotype, and by receiving the fruit of our labor, whether it be a painted classroom or a tutored child.”

Larry A. Amsden, a member of the only English rotary club in Thailand, says that he loves working with Marines and sailors who come through because it brings the manpower needed for projects they come across and are not able to do with the limited number of rotary club members.

After painting the rooms, Marines played volleyball and soccer with the children in addition to seeing the traditional side of Thailand with a show put on by the students, with each song showing a different style of dancing.

“This was a great experience to get off ship and experience the Thai culture”, says Cpl. Bobby R. Hurd, a Wichita, Kan. native and intelligence analyst with Battalion Landing Team 1/1.

Hurd says that everyone had a great time and he is looking forward to participating in the next COMREL offered.

Woodruff, as one of the COMREL planners, helps set up similar events at every port they visit.

“COMRELs are a good way of showing the generosity and kindness of Americans, that we actually enjoy helping people, and that we aren’t here to wreck their society or culture but to help build it,” said Woodruff.The 13th MEU stopped in Thailand as they entered the sixth of their seven month deployment.

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