Sunday, 4 October 2009

US GIs wonder Filipinos still smiling

Beverly T. Natividad
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – A team of American soldiers got a first-hand look at the devastation wrought by tropical storm “Ondoy” – and ended up wondering how Filipinos could still smile and give them “high-fives” amid a terrible calamity.

At least 27 members of the 3rd US Marine Expeditionary Force, composed of doctors, nurses, medical aides and a chaplain, the other day conducted a medical and dental mission at Nangka Elementary School, which sheltered thousands displaced by the massive floods in Marikina City.

“We’ve seen things here [in terms of the destruction] that we haven’t seen before. This is really the least we can do. We wish we could stay longer,” said Lt. Commander Todd Endicott, the mission’s leader.

Endicott also shared one interesting observation: “We all wonder how [Filipinos] keep smiling through all this.”

“Americans probably wouldn’t handle this as well. Here, people are smiling, saying ‘Hi’ to us, giving us high-fives. This is a pretty miserable situation, how people keep smiling, I don’t know. It’s probably a testament to the culture,” Endicott said.

Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr., AFP spokesman, said the US mission was the first in a series that the group would conduct in the next few days in Eastern Metro Manila, one of the areas hit hardest by storm.

Wading through mud

Wading through the mud, the GIs and their counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also distributed medicines and clothes.

Hunched in small chairs meant for schoolchildren, US troopers made do with the few tables and chairs available.

They treated mostly the wounded – those who fled the floods barefoot amid the debris – as well as evacuees suffering from colds and cough.

American troopers who took part in the mission were supposed to undergo training north of the country, Endicott said, “but we were told that there’s flooding, destruction and displaced people here so we sprang into action.”

To help clean up

Two more US military units – 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, both stationed in Okinawa, Japan – are expected to ship heavy equipment to help in the cleanup of the disaster areas in the next few days.

These would include a bulldozer, five cargo trucks, five heavy transport vehicles and two heavy-lift helicopters.

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