All she had to do was smile and she had an instant best friend.
That is what Staff Sgt. Jamie Hammond discovered when she spent the day with Singaporean children from Sunbeam Center during a friendship-building community relations project at the Singapore Science Center and Water Park here.
Sunbeam is a residential home for socially disadvantaged youth that provides a place of safety for children, according to the center’s newsletter.
Hammond, who is the fiscal chief with the command element, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) was one of 18 Marine and Navy volunteers from the 11th MEU (SOC) Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group who spent a day of fun and learning with more than 30 children and their chaperones.
The Marines and Sailors are embarked aboard USS Tarawa and are taking part in their first port visit since departing San Diego Nov. 4 and after conducting a humanitarian assistance operation in Bangladesh Dec. 4-6.
"No matter where we go in the world, we always try to do something like this," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Juan Bejarano, religious program specialist, command element, 11th MEU (SOC), from Camp Pendleton, Calif. "We want to show our appreciation to the people of Singapore." The trip to the science center was one of three community relations events the Marines and Sailors from the Tarawa took part in during their week-long visit.
The volunteers were matched with children between the ages of three to 15 by gender or based on the relationship that was developed on the short 20 minute bus ride to the science center. Most boys sought out males and girls naturally gravitated toward females, but that was not always the case. Female chaperones assisted male volunteers who had boys and girls in their group.
It was their day and it quickly became obvious that it was the kids who were running the show, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Glenn A. Bruno, aviation electronics technician, USS Tarawa. If they saw someone they liked, they took that person by the hand and pulled them in the direction of fun, he said. "They had an expression on their face that can only be described as complete happiness. Like nothing else matters but having fun."
Sgt. Brittney Carrington, administration clerk, command element, 11th MEU, was another volunteer who darted from one science exhibit to another and then out into the water park. Watching the children splashing and shouting with joy with people who just a couple of hours ago were strangers was one of her favorite parts of the trip, she said. "I was amazed at how quickly the kids became attached to us. It was very sweet and I had a great time."
"Who doesn't like having fun with kids, running around playing tag and getting spit on with water," said Navy Lt. Scott Ingram, chaplain, Commander Logistics Group, Western Pacific, based in Singapore.
Everyone benefited from this day of friendship and in different ways, said Ingram. The excursion allowed us to express our good-will for the people of Singapore and the volunteers felt good to make children happy.
Some saw their children, little brothers and sisters in the faces of others.
"One little girl in my group reminded me of my daughter Jada," said Bruno, who volunteered because he missed his 4-year-old daughter Jada and 9-year-old son Nyrel. She had a joy on her face that only kids have. It was Jada's joy. "She was just like her," he said smiling. "She was dragging me all around the center, telling me and everyone else what to do."
**For more information about the 11th MEU (SOC) visit their website athttp://www.usmc.mil.