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U.S. Troops visit Thai children during Cobra Gold

Date Posted: 2004-06-17

RAYONG, Thailand — A group of 36 US service members took a break from their military training here last month to visit the Thai children of the Eastern Child Welfare Protection Institution.

More than 4,000 Okinawa-based Marines were in Thailand last month for Exercise Cobra Gold ’04, the largest exercise involving U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region. Cobra Gold is an annual joint-combined exercise designed to improve the combat readiness of U.S., Thailand, Singapore, Mongolian, and Philippines armed forces, as well as provide humanitarian assistance.

The Eastern Child Welfare Protection Institution provides welfare assistance and protection for boys and girls ages 7-18 who are orphaned, lost, vagrant, misbehaved or left by guardians who are unable to care for them.

Although the language barrier made communication difficult, it did not prevent them from serving ice cream, slapping “high-fives” and playing football with the children.

“They are comfortable with us,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph Morris, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. “The best part is playing with the kids and seeing how they react to us.”

According to Lt. j.g. G. Allen Fleming, Combat Logistics Battalion-70’s chaplain, the visit was an opportunity for the Thais and U.S. service members to experience one another’s culture.

“When you interact with the kids they enjoy it,” said Fleming. “There is a sense of satisfaction from the Marines as they have a great experience and see a different aspect of life.”

For one Brownsville, Texas, native, the experience really hit home.

“I grew up like this, poor and with little money,” said Lance Cpl. Jesus Garza Jr., Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.

As the visit drew to a close and the vans pulled into the playground to pick up the service members, hand shakes and smiles gave the impression this would not be the last time the children would see their new friends.

“My students like and enjoy the Marines and sailors,” said institution social worker Kwan Kitdamrongkul, who has arranged three service member visits this year. “They are happy and we are thankful for everything they do for the center.”

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