By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class
Charles Newcomer, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines –
Sailors from USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and U.S. 7th Fleet staff joined
embarked Marines, as well as Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction
Battalion (NMCB) 3; to complete construction on a new school
building dedicated to Changco Elementary School in General Santos
City, Philippines Feb. 18.
The newly constructed building offers a safe and comfortable
learning environment, something the old and damaged structure it
replaced could not provide. The Blue Ridge and U.S. 7th Fleet team
helped wrap up the construction project and also added a few final
touches that enhanced the event.
While some Sailors and Marines repaired classroom furniture, others
played with students from the school and presented them with
learning supplies and a few gifts. Building the new school from the
ground up and taking the time to stop and interact with the children
who will learn within its walls made the Changco Elementary School
project the pinnacle of Project Kaibigan, which means friendship in
“This is a perfect example of what the Navy and Marine Corps team
can accomplish in just a short amount of time,” said Senior Chief
Builder David Rich, referring to the new school house being built in
less than a week. “We were tasked to do something positive for the
local community by building this new structure and we finished it
safely without incident and on schedule.”
In an area known to have a credible threat from anti-government and
terrorist forces, Marines from the Security Force Battalion 2nd
Company 1st Platoon arrived with Blue Ridge and U.S. 7th Fleet
Sailors to work alongside the Philippine Army in providing security
for the work site.
As the final touches were put on the building, many of the local
residents trekked up a steep hill from their village below to show
their children the new school where they’d learn. Many were
noticeably impressed with both the building and the speed in which
it was constructed.
“My thanks to the Blue Ridge for coming today to help us finalize
and paint the new building,” said Harry Villanueva, principal of the
school. “Thank you, thank you, words are not enough to say thank you
for all of the generosity that you have extended to us.”
Blue Ridge Commanding Officer, Capt. Jeff Bartkoski and Command
Master Chief (SW) John Becker joined the nearly 30 Sailors and
Marines at the work site and helped out by painting the building.
“As the captain of Blue Ridge, it is an absolute privilege for us to
be here in the Philippines,” said Bartkoski. “Today at Changco
Elementary School we are providing a new facility for approximately
100 children to give them an opportunity to contribute to their
nation and to the world in a way that maybe they couldn’t have
After 10 hours of hard work, the final day of the project wrapped up
with the entire team of Sailors and Marines posing with Philippine
Army personnel and local citizens, as the newly constructed school
with “Project Kaibigan” painted on the side served as a backdrop.
“I knew I had volunteered for something when I woke up this
morning,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Marlene Thrower. “But I
had no idea how much of an impact it would have on these people’s
lives. This is awesome. This is the Navy and America at its finest.”
Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Jeff Bartkoski and serves under
Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7/Task Force (CTF) 76,
the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the
flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is
headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an
operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
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