Camp Lapu-Lapu, CEBU CITY— A two-week RP-US Balikatan Exercises opened on Friday as US troops arrived here and in Leyte province.
Navy Lieutenant Jim Alagao, spokesman of the Central Command said this is the first Balikatan Exercises, four days after US President Barack Obama’s visit in Manila.
A total of 25 military personnel of the Hawaii National Guard will conduct the training to 151 military and civilian urban search and rescue teams from the provinces of Cebu and Bohol.
Among the civilian rescue groups who are participants in the urban search and rescue training are from the Philippine Red Cross, Bohol’s TARSIER (Telephone and Radio System Integrated Emergency Response) 117 Team, and Emergency Response Unit Foundation (ERUF) Cebu.
An opening program welcomed the troops from Hawaii National Guard at the headquarters of Central Command in Camp Lapulapu, barangay Apas in this city.
Central Command’s deputy commander Brig. Gen. Romeo Labador, in his message, said the focus on urban search and rescue is part of the aim of the exercise to enhance the humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) of the participants.
“Balikatan is the most evident manifestation of a shared commitment between the Philippines and the United States Armed Forces to move and act shoulder to shoulder or balikatan in our local language for stability, security and development,” he said.
“Interoperability and readiness will be enhanced between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Pacific Command,” he added.
Brig. Gen. Labador also said that the exercise will include the sharing of each participant’s expertise and experiences in dealing with natural disasters and “draw strategies on how to address them”.
“The joint and combined training we conducted in the past balikatan exercises, coupled with the resiliency of us Filipinos and the selfless commitment of foreign support, particularly from the United States helped us overcome overwhelming challenges left by the recent disasters,” he added.
Staff Sergeant Cory Ito, subject matter expert on rope rescue operations, told reporters that they are looking forward to hearing the experiences of rescue teams who responded to the 7.2-magnitude earthquake and the super typhoon Yolanda that devastated the Visayas last year.
Team building activities are also part of the exercises. Among them include lifting and hauling games and a soccer game.
Troops assigned in Leyte province will conduct Humanitarian Civic Assistance activities which include providing free healthcare services at Tacloban City.
Press Release by the CENTCOM