DILI, East Timor -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group arrived here 9 April to begin three days of humanitarian and civic assistance in support of East Timor's transition to independence.
In concert with the U.S. government?s ongoing commitment to East Timor, 11th MEU (SOC) /Boxer ARG deployed more than 350 Marines and Sailors daily, from the USS Boxer (LHD-4), USS Harper's Ferry (LSD-49) and USS Cleveland (LPD-7) to several locations in East Timor to conduct medical and dental assistance, air and sea lift of humanitarian supplies and assist in community relations projects around the island.
Nearly two years prior to the ARG's visit, East Timor was beset by civil strife after a vote for independence from Indonesia spurred members of various militia groups to incite violence throughout East Timor. As forces looted and torched homes and businesses and killed innocent civilians, thousands of East Timorese fled from their homes into the mountains and across the border into neighboring West Timor.
To restore order and facilitate humanitarian assistance, the United Nations established International Forces, East Timor (INTERFET) to halt the violence in East Timor.
Once order was restored, INTERFET was replaced by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, created to assist East Timor in its transition to self-government. Additionally, United States Support Group East Timor (USGET) was created to coordinate activities of U.S. Forces rotating through the area with UNTAET and its military Peace Keeping Forces.
Currently commanded by Air Force Col Steven E. Hoarn, the USGET staff of 12 personnel drawn from the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army, provides the vital framework for units such as 11th MEU (SOC) and the Boxer ARG. "With the arrival of the 11th MEU and Boxer ARG we will engage in the largest most aggressive three-day program my staff has ever encountered," Hoarn said. "It proves that the vision for USGET to leave a big and positive footprint despite not having a large permanent presence is possible."
The footprint brings with it the 11th MEU (SOC) and Boxer ARG's ability to provide needed medical and dental care, the tools and expertise for construction projects and the aircraft to move needed supplies and donated goods to isolated areas throughout East Timor.
Before the three ships of the Boxer ARG arrived in East Timor, 11th MEU (SOC)'s medical and dental personnel, assigned to the forward command element arrived in country to provide initial care to East Timorese patients at various sites on the island.
"It's a unique opportunity for us to be here because there is so little medical care available in East Timor," Navy LT Marc H. Seidman, general medical officer, Battalion Landing Team 2/1. "We?ve shown up in villages without medical care available. We've seen untreated malaria, tuberculosis and even leprosy. Hopefully our visit will make a difference for some of these East Timorese people."
After the arrival of the 11th MEU (SOC) and Boxer ARG, medical and dental care expanded to three clinics in Dili and one on the eastern end of East Timor in the town of Los Palos. During the three-day period more than 900 patients were seen by doctors, 243 patients were seen by dentists, and more than 160 eyeglasses were prescribed and donated.
While the medical and dental personnel were busy on the ground, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-268 (rein) was busy in the air. Flying more than 165 sorties with a combination of aircraft, 11th MEU (SOC)'s aviation combat element moved personnel and supplies to numerous locations throughout East Timor to include 165 tons of supplies and food.
"This is a significant achievement," said Capt Francis G. Gala, CH-46E pilot HMM-268 (rein). "Significant due to the short period of time in respect to the amount of material, distances involved and challenging landing zones."
Some of the materials flown ashore were used to repair schools and community centers. Dare Elementary School, located on a steep hillside above Dili, was one of the schools and was considered a severe risk to the safety of children.
"I wouldn't have sent my kids there at all," said LCpl Mark Hagan, Battery R, BLT 2/1. "There weren?t any rails along the stairway and hazardous debris like glass and metal were all around the front of the school. By the end of the third day there was a significant improvement."
Identifying projects such as Dare Elementary School was coordinated by USGET who worked with Non-Governmental Organizations such as Timor Aid, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP).
The Boxer ARG hovercraft (Landing Craft Air Cushioned) transported more than 80 metric tons of rice, grain and corn sourced from NGO's to several areas of East Timor. The largest sealift operation included a 200 nautical mile round trip to Oecussi Enclave by three LCACs.
Additionally, Handclasp items, donations from corporations and organizations from the United States, were delivered by Marines and Sailors of the 11th MEU (SOC) and Boxer ARG to the Timor Aid Foundation, for distribution to different organizations and schools
"We want to try and get it out to the hills where they don't have as much," said Angus Cooper, Timor Aid. "Having the Navy and Marine Corps has been great for us. What would have taken us five days to transport to these villages has only taken two hours thanks to the work done by your Navy and Marine Corps here."
While Marines and Sailors were ashore carrying out the numerous missions, more than 200 people visited the USS Boxer to include 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jose Ramos Horta currently serving the National Council, the umbrella organization created to unite the main independence groups in East Timor.
Smiling faces were common for the East Timorese who visited the USS Boxer as well as those watched or worked with the Marines and Sailors at the various sites. In some cases, Marines and Sailors received small gifts or firm hand shakes from East Timorese expressing gratitude for the opportunities and accomplishments 11th MEU (SOC) and Boxer ARG brought with them.
"The performance of all the Marines and Sailors was superb," said Col Charles S. Patton, commanding officer, 11th MEU (SOC). "Marines and Sailors from 11th MEU (SOC) and the Boxer ARG safely and professionally performed three days of humanitarian assistance operations in the developing country of East Timor. Everyone from those who went ashore, to those remaining behind on the amphibious ships, played a vital and important role which has enriched our lives and brought many smiles of thanks to the impoverished people of East Timor. There was so much need, we could not possibly accomplish the many tasks during our brief stop, but without a doubt everyone worked with the gusto and belief that we could."