U.S. servicemembers on relief mission reach out to communities
January 24, 2005
PATTAYA, Thailand — Introductions were quick at the Pattaya Orphanage on Wednesday, when 31 U.S. servicemembers working with the Operation Unified Assistance headquarters at Utapao spent several hours visiting orphans and disabled children.
Two dozen shopping bags filled with noodles, baby supplies and toys brought by visiting servicemembers were left at the entrance. From the rows of cribs inside, tiny infants took a position in the welcoming arms of the Americans.
On Thursday, a dozen other servicemembers built bookshelves and expanded a driveway at the nearby Baptist Camp and Mission at Jomtien.
“People want to do something to help with the tsunami relief,” said Air Force Chaplain Capt. Dominic Vitaliano, who organized the orphanage visit. “We want to give them something to get out of the base and give them another option to do something that’s life-fulfilling.”
The community-relations projects provide respite from the daily grind and help foster good relations with local communities. Typical during deployments, they give servicemembers a chance to help others.
Many servicemembers in Utapao came to the region expecting to roll up their sleeves and get involved, clearing debris or helping to dig out remains. But the tsunami didn’t affect the areas where they’re working.
“When we first deployed, that’s what I thought we’d be doing,” said Staff Sgt. Crystal Burton, a chaplain’s assistant from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, who visited the orphanage. “I wanted to be able to do a little good here. It’s nice to be able to really feel like you’re a part of helping.”
The projects are designed to give those in the rear a chance to participate.
“They may not be able to recognize just how important the job they’re doing here is helping,” said Navy Lt. Michael Peyton, chaplain for the 7th Communications Battalion from Okinawa, who organized the project at the Baptist mission. “If we bring them back and show them the big picture, that kind of satisfies that frustration. It might help them feel a part of helping folks.”
The trick, the chaplains say, is not eclipsing the overall relief.
“The whole thing we’re doing here in the theater is a community-relations project,” Peyton said. “We don’t want to do anything with such high visibility that it takes away from the effect of this mission.”
Both chaplains quickly found places in need of help in and around Pattaya. Vitaliano learned of the orphanage from a local priest. He visited the director and asked what was needed, then sent out a list to volunteers. Participants bought their own supplies.
The projects are simple, but important to the hosts and participants.
“I wouldn’t have passed this up,” said Tech. Sgt. Gus Caughman, with the 13th Air Force from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. “Someone would be crazy, I think, to not go out and try to help.”
So many volunteers came forward that some had to be turned away.
“It builds morale,” Vitaliano said. “(It) gives everyone an opportunity to do something good and see the local area.”