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Balikatan 08 kicks off with Opening Ceremony

CAMP AGUINALDO, Philippines –Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. service members stood shoulder to shoulder in the Officer’s Club banquet hall Feb. 18, watching the uncasing of the Balikatan Colors, symbolizing the start of this year’s exercise.

http://www1.apan-info.net/balikatan/News/tabid/1368/mid/2691/newsid2691/8010/Default.aspx

Story and photos by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Shepherd
Joint Task Force- Balikatan PAO
Posted on Monday, February 18, 2008

“I am very optimistic that the exercise Balikatan 2008 will live up to our high expectations,” said AFP Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr., chief of staff for the AFP. “Thus, by purview of the authority vested in me as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and co-chairman of the (Republic of the Philippines-United States) Mutual Defense group, I hereby declare the RP-US Balikatan Exercise 2008 open.”
Balikatan 2008 is an annual RP-US bilateral military exercise consisting of humanitarian assistance and training activities. Since 1981, both militaries have met to learn from one another and improve on their interoperability. This year’s exercise runs from Feb. 18 to March 3.
True to its meaning in Filipino, Balikatan entails Philippine and U.S. forces shouldering the load together to help the greatest possible number of people in need, according to AFP Brig. Gen. Nestor R. Sadiarin, co-exercise director of BK 08.

“Our troops are ready to maximize the opportunity to do something that will have lasting benefits for peace and social progress in the mission areas,” Sadiarin said. “We’ll do that by sharing the load together.”

Balikatan 2008 will focus on training both armed forces to provide relief and assistance, in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.

AFP and U.S. forces will conduct combined staff exercises and field training in Luzon and Palawan to improve contingency planning and strengthen maritime security. U.S. Navy ships are scheduled to visit several locations in the Philippines as well.

There are also dozens of medical, dental and engineering civil action projects scheduled in Luzon, Lanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan over the next couple of weeks.

“Joined together in a collective effort, our military medical professionals along with local doctors, nurses, veterinarians and volunteers will provide free medical, dental, and veterinary care to local communities where these services are most needed,” said U.S. Brig. Gen. John Y. H. Ma, co-exercise director of BK 08.

“Balikatan 2007 was my first in this country,” added U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney. “I set out to see just what this means, and I very much liked what I saw. I traveled to the Sulu Archipelago where I saw doctors from our two nations, pairing with local civilians to offer free medical care to thousands of people, no questions asked.”

Engineering projects are scheduled for numerous schools, including Pang Elementary School in Jolo, St. Juliana Elementary School in Crow Valley and Maragondon National High School in Ternate, which was destroyed in a fire last April.

“It’s humbling to be a part of such an effort that will have a profound impact on the young people and future leaders of the people of the Republic of the Philippines,” Ma said.

“There is possibly no greater satisfaction than the thought of healthy children in a remote location going to school in a schoolhouse that thanks to our combined efforts, has a roof on it, has a ceiling fan, has a dignified environment where teachers can teach and students can learn,” Kenney added. “This has an impact on all of us.”

The Republic of the Philippines and the U.S. have spent 50 years as Mutual Defense Treaty partners. The U.S. is participating in BK 08 at the invitation of the government of the Republic of the Philippines.

“I would like to express our deepest gratitude to the generous people of the Republic of the Philippines who have so graciously invited us once again to this beautiful country to learn the lessons from your soldiers and people that will further the bonds of this strong partnership of peace,” Ma said.