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Cobra Gold 2011 troops volunteer at Chiang Mai orphanage

By Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher | | February 13, 2011

Service members based in Chiang Mai for Exercise Cobra Gold 2011 lent a helping hand to a local orphanage Feb. 12-13, 2011.

The 27 troops spent the two days painting an 80-foot long wall and a 10 by 15 foot room at the Ban Kingkaew Wiboolsanti Orphanage. Some of the volunteers also took some time to interact with and hold the young children.

The orphanage, currently home to 52 children aged 3 months to 6 years old, is run by the Chiang Mai Orphanage Foundation. The home, itself a gift by its namesake Khun Kingkaew Wiboolsanti, opened its doors in July 1966 as the first orphanage in Chiang Mai.

The orphanage is staffed entirely by volunteers, so the American military ‘ volunteer efforts are greatly appreciated, said Praneet Swasdiraksa, vice president of the Chiangmai Orphanage Foundation.

“We were in need, and they came to help,” Swasdiraksa said.

This was the first time American military members have volunteered at the orphanage, but thanks to their efforts, the orphanage hopes to be able to provide a home for six more children in the newly-painted room, she said.

The project came about when Master Sgt. Klever Novillo, camp commandant for the Cobra Gold 2011 service members based in Chiang Mai, with III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF,  based in Okinawa, Japan, was here for an initial site survey of the area to coordinate billeting during the exercise. Novillo said he had been directed by the III MHG chaplain to find some kind of community service project for troops to do while here, and he just stumbled across the orphanage.

It’s important to do community service projects such as this during deployments to other countries, said Novillo, a Jersey City, N.J., native.

“It tells people who haven’t had real interaction with the U.S. military before that we’re not just about military operations. It tells also about the humanitarian side of our mission,” he said.

Events like this show the human face of the U.S. military, he said.

There’s a benefit to the service member s who volunteer on projects like this as well, Novillo said.

“The volunteers get an emotional satisfaction that you can help out a child. That’s what I get, that I can have an impact on a child that has nothing,” he said.  “All (children) really want is a little bit of attention.”

One volunteer, Lance Cpl. Ross Poulton, with Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said he appreciated the opportunity to volunteer in the Chiang Mai community.
“I think it’s great that we are volunteering, doing something to support the orphans here,” said Poulton, a Sykesville , Md., native.

“It’s fun to see new people, volunteer and help out,” he said.

Staff at the orphanage appreciated the opportunity to meet the U.S. sevice members of Cobra Gold 2011 as well, said Chimtana Varith, Chiangmai Orphanage Foundation secretary.

“We hope they will come out next time they are here; they’ve been very (helful) for our children,” she said.

Cobra Gold 2011 is a regularly scheduled, multinational joint training exercise designed to promote regional peace and increase interoperability between participating nations.

For more information about Cobra Gold 2011, visit www.marines.mil/cobragold2011 or www.facebook.com/exercisecobragold.

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