By LT Michael Sardone, Officer in Charge of Civil Engineering Projects, Pacific Partnership 2011
Throughout this mission, the engineering component of Pacific Partnership has been building better futures for partner and host nations alike. As we move on to our fourth country, Timor-Leste, I have the opportunity to look back and see exactly what my Seabees and Sappers, or Australian engineers, have done to provide that improvement.
In Tonga, we helped establish a better future for seven local communities by refurbishing and rebuilding government offices. The people in these villages were so happy with the support we provided; they welcomed us into their houses for lunch as a sign of friendship and gratitude. In the end, my men and women – American and Australian – made lasting friends with Tongans of all ages.
In one of these locations, our Seabees worked alongside the Tonga Defence Force Engineers to replace a roof on a three-classroom school building in Taoa. This roof was blown off during a cyclone two years ago. The classrooms had not been used until the team replaced the roof in late April. The future of the children in this community looks a lot brighter now that they have the ability to use all six classrooms at their school, and their teachers will be able to take advantage of smaller class sizes. Hence, with one project we enabled the young Tongans to learn in small groups. Now the children have a better chance at higher education. And the teachers now feel safe – for themselves and their students – as they work.
When we got to Vanuatu our group of engineers grew to include the New Zealand Defence Force Engineers. This was a first for Pacific Partnership, but hopefully they will return every year.
Our multi-national team built three classroom structures, two toilet facilities and installed roofs on two schools. Now the local children will have no need to miss hours of school because they have to go home to use the restroom. Now they can study without the need to feel embarrassed about going to the bathroom outside. Here, too, a small change – building a bathroom – will impact a generation of school children.
As we leave Papua New Guinea, I look back upon the projects and ceremonies which have provided a connection between our team and the people of this country. We had a similar impact here that we had in Tonga and Vanuatu. Yet; the one that will stay with me for the remainder of my life will be the ribbon cutting at Bubia Primary School. Here, more than 1,500 people came to a small campus to show the engineers from the Pacific Partnership team their appreciation for the work we did on their behalf. We assisted in decreasing the overcrowded classrooms with the construction of two more classrooms and a water tower. And we fitted an existing bathroom facility with proper piping so that the building can be used properly without having to bring water from nearby water catchment tanks.
So as we move on to our next mission port we leave behind brighter futures for communities in Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea while building upon our relationships with our fellow host nation militaries. Without the assistance of these forces and local community involvement our mission would not have been such a success.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. The next blog post will be up in a few days.
LT Michael Sardone, CEC, USN
LT Michael Sardone is the officer in charge of civil engineering projects for Pacific Partnership 2011. He is the mission commander’s primary advisor for all civil engineering projects, coordinates resources with the building teams which arrive up to a month before even the advance echelon, and he is the primary supervisor to determine the team’s ability to complete projects on time.