Strengthening ties; CLB Marines clear path at Philippine Marine Base

10 Oct 2014 | Cpl. Henry Antenor 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Looking at the large tractor, known as the TRAM, you would think of some sort of hybrid between a forklift and a bulldozer. Regardless of how it looks, the TRAM has allowed U.S. Marines in the Philippines to help make a difference. 

Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, cleared the rubble from a recent landslide that blocked part of a road and waterway that runs through Philippine Marine Corps Base Gregorio Lim in Ternate, the Philippines, on Oct. 7. The work ensured potential dangers were averted and cleared the way for strengthened relationships between the two allies.   

“When you look at the terrain here in Ternate, it’s all hills, there’s not much flat ground,” said Capt. Rodney James, the camp commandant for CLB-31 at Philippine MCB Gregorio Lim, and a native of Baltimore. “So every time they have a landslide, it does more than just block a road. It blocks the dams, it blocks the canals. It also increases the risk of having boulders – some that weigh about a ton – crashing down on the structures here.”

James was more than willing to get his guys involved to eliminate the risk of debris rolling down hill, hurting the service members or civilians at the base.

He employed two heavy-equipment operators and two combat engineers with one giant wheeled powerhouse to take on the challenge of clearing the obstacles.

“During our time at Ternate, we usually move anything that is [U. S.] Marine Corps-oriented to our mission,” said Cpl. Patrick Sorrentino, a heavy equipment operator with CLB-31, and a native of Philadelphia. “But then we got a call to clear boulders off the road. We were pretty excited when we were told we can move something other than (cargo) all day.”

A Philippine Marine guided the CLB-31 Marines to the area where the landslide occurred, which significantly slowed traffic and obstructed water flow.

“[He] pointed out the specific boulders that needed to be removed from the gutter and the rubble from the road,” said Cpl. Mitch Jacobsen, a combat engineer with CLB-31, and a native of Minnesota City, Minnesota. “We got to work on it right away; we had to use both the TRAM and a bit of manpower.” 

Together the Philippine and U.S. Marines hooked ratchet straps to the fork of the TRAM and secured them underneath the boulders. Then the heavy equipment operator removed the largest of the boulders, disposing them to a safe location in the jungle. 

“We cleared the road and got the debris out of the way,” said Lance Cpl. Shamus King, a combat engineer with CLB-31, and a native of Winston, Massachusetts. “While the operators did their job, the combat engineers directed traffic until it was done.”

The Marines felt great about cleaning up the landslide, helping the Filipino populace as well as the Marines deployed here, according to Lance Cpl. Octavio Ramirez, the section noncommissioned officer of heavy equipment for CLB-31, and a native of Atlanta.

“Everybody that was going by while we worked on the road was waving at us and stopped to thank us,” said Ramirez. “Afterward, we got a huge meal from the [Philippine] Master Sergeant and got to eat with the commander of the base and our chain of command. We felt really happy that we can help foster relationships here in the Philippines, which help the Marine Corps out.”

For providing them assistance, the Philippine Marines wanted to give back in a gesture of thanks to their counterparts, according to Philippine Marine Col. Yuri G. Pesigan, base commander of MCB Gregorio Lim, and a native of Oriental Mindoro Island, Philippines. 

“Every time we have these kinds of activities, we become stronger together,” said Pesigan. “The U.S. Marine Corps and the Philippine Marine Corps have a long-lasting history. Our troops grew accustomed to working together. This strengthening of ties is the essence of the bilateral exercise conducted in the Philippines where U.S. Marines and Filipino Marines are shoulder-to-shoulder.”

PHIBLEX is an annual, bilateral training exercise conducted by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines alongside U.S. Marine and Navy forces focused on strengthening the partnership and relationships between the two nations across a range of military operations including disaster relief and complex expeditionary operations.