Blue Ridge Teams with Philippine Navy and Police to Build Playground
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Josh Cassatt, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
MANILA, Philippines (NNS) -- USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff Sailors volunteered alongside service members from the Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police (PNP) Feb. 20 to build a playground as part of a Gawad Kalinga community service project.
Gawad Kalinga is a community outreach program that seeks to provide homes, food, and land for those in need.
During the community service project, volunteers cleared trash and rocks from a lot and laid the foundation for a playground by constructing a small rock wall and filling in the area with sand to make it safe for children.
After completing the landscaping, Sailors added a rope swing and two seesaws, which were welded by Blue Ridge's hull technicians.
"Every kid deserves to have a park to play in," said Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 1st Class Nicole Duran. "This is why we joined the Navy—to travel the world, experience different things, and to help others. I think we really accomplished a lot here."
The project was a chance for Sailors to interact with the locals and give back to the host nation during the port visit.
"The marvelous thing about this is that it is truly a community relations effort because we are interacting and working with Philippine police and Navy to make this happen," said Capt. James Puttler, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet chaplain. "It is not just a one-sided effort and it gives strength to the folks living here."
The camaraderie displayed between Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet Sailors and the Philippine Navy and police was special for the Gawad Kalinga organizers and the host country volunteers too.
"For me it is a breakthrough seeing the two peoples working together," said Ermelo Villaroman, Gawad Kalinga's deputy project director. "It is great that the Philippine Navy and PNP and the American Navy are going out of their way to do something like this. I think there should be more cooperation like this and it should be highlighted so people will know."
"We are always happy to have the chance to meet different forces," said Josie Austero, a representative from PNP's National Capital Regional Police Office. "The PNP's main goal is to serve the people and it is so wonderful to share that goal with the Americans."
The sense of community was also shared by the project volunteers.
"There is always somebody who needs help," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Kristel Jackson. "Working with the Filipinos shows there is more unity out there than people think."
Blue Ridge's Commanding Officer, Capt. Thom W. Burke, also visited the project site and handed out toys and thanked local community organizers for allowing Sailors to come and help out.
"We are very excited every time the Americans come here," said Themzie Escobar, a non-commissioned officer in the PNP. "We are happy because every time you are here you help the Filipinos."
Gawad Kalinga is an ongoing project both for the local community organizers and the Navy.
"The idea is that the next ship to pull in will continue the work that we did here today in the rest of the community," Puttler said.
"We are grateful to be chosen as the beneficiaries of your Navy's service to the community," said PNP Superintendent Rodelio Balza Jocson. "We hope this project will be shared continuously."
Blue Ridge serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
For more news from USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), visit www.navy.mil/local/lcc19/