There’s a new school on an island in the Philippines thanks to the efforts of British commando engineers from Chivenor-based 59 Commando Squadron, 24 Commando Royal Engineers.
An ‘engineering strike team’ have provided their technical expertise as part of the UK’s commitment to Pacific Partnership 22 - a US-led mission providing healthcare and welfare assistance to remote communities in the Western Pacific
The two-month-long mission, which has just concluded, also supported humanitarian and community projects.
As well as a deputy commander from the Royal Navy and a medical officer on the flagship hospital ship USNS Mercy, the UK assigned HMS Tamar and the commando engineers to the operation, as part of Britain’s support to the Pacific region.
Sappers joined their US Navy counterparts, the 'Seabees', to help build a school classroom in the Aborlan region of Palawan – a single storey, two-roomed building which will open its doors to youngsters in October.
'Great sense of achievement'
The British troops – part of an army unit which operates under 3 Commando Brigade and normally fulfils the engineering requirements of Royal Marines on the battlefield – worked on the foundations up to erecting load-bearing pillars and block walls.
Lance Corporal ‘Bomber’ Brown, said: “The engineering tasks were immensely rewarding and educational. The limited availability of plant and equipment placed a heavy burden. Combined with an average temperature of 30 degrees it made for arduous working conditions.
“But this only served to foster a greater sense of achievement – especially in the knowledge that we were giving back to the local community,” he said.
The engineers – who wear the coveted Green Beret having completed the All Arms Commando Course – joined in various community events including sports days and games across Palawan, which is more than 250 miles long, 25 miles wide and home to nearly one million people.
“Perhaps the most rewarding was the ocean bed clean up – teams competed to gather as much rubbish from the seabed as possible, with the help of Filipino scuba divers,” said Sapper Joshua Sparrowhawk.
The soldiers let their hair down at an evening of Filipino culture - a traditional lechon (roast pig) dinner complete with locals performing a folk dance known as ‘tinikling’.
Lance Corporal Robert Lawson enjoyed the whole experience, from working with the Seabees and Filipino troops, to learning new construction techniques that may assist humanitarian work in the future, and gaining an insight into a culture very different from day-to-day life at 59 Squadron’s home in North Devon.
LCpl Lawson said of the Filipinos, all “were a fantastic bunch of people and beyond welcoming”.
“This is without a doubt a deployment that will endure in my memory as a career highlight, both for the opportunities it provided me as well as for the people I spent it with,” said LCpl Lawson