TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “We enjoy lending a helping hand,” said Tech. Sgt. Samantha Miller, 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron command and control air advisor. “It’s helpful for the local community and it’s rewarding for us.”
During a recent mission to Panama, members of the 571st MSAS went beyond their usual charge of assessing, training, advising, assisting and equipping partner nations. Air advisors build community relations operations, or COMREL events, into their missions to assist partner nations’ local communities.
These events are built into the missions beforehand with each country’s U.S. Embassy representatives. Serving the host nation’s community has become just as important as working with cross-border-brothers and sisters-in-arms. During the events, the goal is “small footprint, big results.” Each of the events are put together by MSAS members, and they are even more important due to COVID-19, but equally difficult to execute.
“Civilian communities are important to all of our developing partner nations. Their work directly protects and enriches their citizens. But just like the United States, funding and resources just aren’t there sometimes,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christian Ramos-Claudio, 571st MSAS civil engineer and mission interpreter. “It’s a unique opportunity to help both the military and civilian groups in another country, exponentially pushing our overall positive impact in the region.”
The members of the MSAS mobile training team and Panamanian students of the National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), gathered at Escuela Playa Leona, an elementary school located in a more rural area of Panama’s central interior. MSAS members donated building materials, repaired more than 900 square feet of chain-link fencing, and removed 400 pounds of trash, debris, and vegetation on the school’s property. In addition, they came back a few days later with school supplies for 20 students.
Escuela Playa Leona was chosen because of the devastating hardships faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The school itself has 169 students from grades 1-8, but due to resource constraints limiting police presence in the area, vagrants and cartel members trafficking drugs had overrun it. The SENAN were particularly unwavering in their dedication to take back the school and restore it as a community staple.
This event came to be one of the MSAS’ biggest COMREL events to date. Notable guests at the event were Playa Leon’s School principal, and U.S. Embassy members. The MSAS’ work was highlighted on the Embassy’s Twitter page too, with many local community members praising the event.
“It is admirable social work, in good faith and without expecting anything in return,” said Panama SENAN Subteniente (1st Lt.) Bernardo O. Arcia Jaramillo, who assisted at the event. “If everyone would take a day off from work to help others, the world would really be a place that we can all live in, but not all of us are willing to work hard for it. Thanks to you, 571st MSAS for your great work.”
The 571st MSAS mission commander also recognized the positives of the event.
“This was a great opportunity for our team to assist the greater Panamanian community during this mission,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Phillip Resnick, 571st MSAS mission commander for the MTT. “We always get a lot of benefits from working with partner nation security and defense forces, but having the opportunity to strengthen our country’s relationship with the general public of a key regional partner during an engagement is something we feel is very important and always enjoy doing.”