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Cobra Gold 2011 Marines, sailors make difference for disabled children

By Lance Cpl. Miranda Blackburn | | February 4, 2011

Marines and sailors supporting Exercise Cobra Gold 2011 participated in a community relations event at the Panyonnookun School for Disabled to aid in humanitarian efforts Feb. 4, 2011.

The school educates more than 400 deaf, mute, and otherwise mentally and physically disabled children.

Service members reached out to the children by playing games, dancing, eating and attempting to communicate with them.

"It's very simple, we get out and play with kids," said Cmdr. Dean Hoelz, chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. "We interact by games, by song, through hand gestures and you really find out that people are people no matter where you go."

Before the activities began, a group of six deaf boys and girls, dressed in blue sequened costumes, performed a hoolahoop dance for the Marines and sailors.

Even the shy Marines and sailors broke out of their shells to interact with the other children in the audience. 

Soon service members had children hanging from every limb. The children began crawling all over Marines and sailors, trying to speak to them in a language they couldn't understand.

But all soon realized they could communicate through facial expressions and smiles alone.

"These Marines shed their comfort zone and inhibitions, and they'll get the kids and put them on their shoulders, and they'll hug them," said Lt. Mark Torres, chaplain for MAG 36, 1st MAW. "I think that that right there, that language goes beyond the language barrier that we have and shows the community how much we love them and how much we apprectiate them and enjoy them."

During the visit, Marines gave hugs, started arm wrestling competitions and even a few games of thumb war.

"I was having a good time," said Pfc. Michael Haslam, an armor with Marine Air Control Group 18, Marine Air Support Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st MAW. "I was dancing with them and had them on my shoulders."

Being able to help and show love to underpriveledged children was something he will remember for the rest of his life, Haslam added.

There were enough donated toys during the event for every child to recieve at least one.

Torres said events like these not only help support the need of the community but the individual Marines and sailors as well.

"Life is not about you," said Torres. "There is more fullfillment in life than yourself, and life is richer if you give love away."

The chaplains participating in Cobra Gold 2011 are planning to coordinate additional community relations events throughout the exercise.

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