U.S. and Thai service members volunteer at school for disabilities

by Lance Cpl. Mandaline Hatch, III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office
U.S. Marine Corps

KORAT, Kingdom of Thailand -- U.S. Marines and sailors, along with Royal Thai Air Force personnel volunteered at Nakhon Ratchasima Panyonnookun School for children with disabilities, February 12.

Exercise Cobra Gold 2015 has given Marines with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and members of RTAF the opportunity to work and fly side by side. Volunteering at the school gave them opportunity to give back to the community outside of base.

“This is giving back,” said Lt. Matthew Heathman, the deputy chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 12, I Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, from Madisonville, Texas. “(Volunteering offers Marines a chance) to work with the community and work with these students to show them why we’re here."

“It’s fun to reach out and actually give back and support other countries and their communities,” said Lance Cpl. Antonio W. West Jr., a motor transport mechanic with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aircraft Group 12, I Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Word of the event quickly spread when it was first announced. A roster was posted in the barracks to make it easier to sign up.

“I heard about it from other Marines, and I thought, why not? It should be fun,” said West, a Seaford, Delaware, native. “I signed up (to volunteer) and of course I had a fun time.”

“The kids love having the Marines, [and] the Marines love playing with the kids,” said Heathman. “You just have to show up, and they’re very excited.”

The group of Marines and sailors started their visit by singing the Marine Corps Hymn on stage before falling out to greet the children. When the command ‘fall out’ was given, the children ran up to the service members with beaming smiles.

The students were then split into groups and with volunteers and played games including pass around a hula-hoop, an eating contest, and musical chairs. After the games, the volunteers sat down with the children to learn more about them and to teach them a little bit of English.

Nakhon Ratchasima Panyonnookum School provides education for 295 children with disabilities. The students attending the school suffer from different disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, hearing loss, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“These students are very special,” said Group Capt. Anurak Romnaik, Deputy Wing One Commander. “[They] are happy to play the games with us.”

“It’s always great being with the kids,” said Heathman. “It really lifts our spirits. Kids are always fun, and we had a great time with them.”

The school visit also provided an opportunity for U.S. service members to bond with the Royal Thai Air Force in their community.

“It’s a good outreach to the community, and we’re able to work with the Royal Thai Air Force as well,” said Heathman.

“This is a good community relationship between the U.S. Marine personnel and our local community in Korat,” said Romnaik. “We are very happy, and I would like to thank all of the U.S. Marine personnel that came to join us as well because the students are very happy, and we are happy to work with them.”

Cobra Gold 2015 is a Thailand /United States, co-sponsored multinational and joint theater security cooperation exercise, conducted annually in the Kingdom of Thailand, with up to 25 nations participating this year. For more information on exercise Cobra Gold, please visit the official Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ExerciseCobraGold.

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