A School in Need is a Friend Indeed
26 July 2016
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast Asia sparked an international response and a launched a united resolve which is steadfast to this day.
In the wake of the disaster the US Navy launched the annual Pacific Partnership missions, and Australia was a founding partner for the medical, dental, veterinary, engineering and humanitarian response activities and training that are conducted in the Southwest Pacific and Southeast Asia.
This year one of activities being exercised are the Community Relations (COMREL) events hosted by the chaplains based aboard the US hospital ship USNS Mercy.
During a recent stopover in Da Nang, Vietnam, a special COMREL project was identified.
The Tuong Lai Specialized School provides education for 139 special needs students in grades K-12.
The school building has a broken gate and required re-painting, and when the call for volunteers was made to go out and work alongside the US Navy's Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE (ACB-1) and other volunteers at Tuong Lai School, RAAF Squadron Leader Bernie Reinke jumped at the chance to help.
Bernie is serving as the Executive Officer for the Australian personnel aboard USNS Mercy, providing the administration support to the contingent members.
Bernie said he jumped at the chance to assist when the chaplains called for volunteers to go to the school and help out.
"It was an opportunity for me to get out of the office and get involved in a worthwhile project," he said.
Bernie worked alongside US Navy personnel and other volunteers from the US and partner nations painting the school buildings to give the school a brighter new look.
The ACB-1 crew leader, Steelworker Third Class Joshua Kopit, said that the painting of the school was a big job so having the COMREL team helping made the task easier.
"With three floors to paint, it was a big job so we decided to split everyone up into three teams to cover a level each," he said.
"Having the Aussies and the Japanese here helping out has been awesome.
"They have done a fantastic job and it's been a lot of fun."
Chaplain David Williams from the US Navy and project organiser said the project will benefit the students and the community.
"It also provides outstanding training for the U.S. and partner engineers and volunteers."
More COMREL events are planned for when Pacific Partnership 16 visits Malaysia and Indonesia.