Sep 132014
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FIL-AM GIsNavy SpecialWarfare Operator Hermelito Rafol and USNavy First Class Jessica San Roque pose with US Ambassador Philip Goldberg during the reenlistment ceremony at the US Embassy. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

She had always aspired to join the military even back in her Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) days. He had joined the service just so he could skip college.

But together Utilitiesman First Class Jessica San Roque and Navy Special Warfare Operator Hermelito Rafol went to serve the US military service as Filipino-Americans detailed at the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

Now the chance came for San Roque and Rafol—born to Filipino parents but raised in the United States—to spend some time in the Philippines, where they were deployed four months ago.

So on a very rainy Wednesday morning last week, San Roque and Rafol took their oath as reenlistees in the US military in front of the Chancery at the US Embassy in Manila, accepting an additional four years of service.

San Roque and Rafol have been assigned to Basilan province for the past four months, helping in the PH-US Balikatan program.

On hand to witness their reenlistment, aside from their families, were US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and their commander, Col. Erik Brown, who led the oath-taking.

“God bless America. Mabuhay [ang] Pilipinas (Long live the Philippines)! I’m glad to be here in Manila and do something special in my career,” said the 29-year-old San Roque after the ceremony.

“Maraming salamat sa tulong ninyo (Thank you very much for your help) … We have a lot of history here being Filipino-Americans. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” said Rafol, who is in his early 20s.

San Roque has been in the US military for nine years and Rafol, for four years.

Renewed commitment

The pair also speak Filipino although Rafol said he studied to speak the language before his deployment here as he grew up speaking only Ilocano and English.

Goldberg thanked San Roque and Rafol for their renewed commitment to the US military, saying this “symbolizes the deep relationship” between the United States and the Philippines, which have the “oldest alliance” in Asia.

Great place in history

He said he was glad the two soldiers chose to take their military oath of reenlistment at the US Embassy in Manila, as “this was a great place in our history in our relationship.”

The US ambassador showed reporters the flagpole in front of the Chancery where he said  “dents” from bullets that had smashed their way through could be found.

Goldberg said this was the original flagpole at the US Embassy when Americans and Filipinos retook the place during the liberation of Manila from the Japanese Army in 1945.

The US Embassy said there were 9,410 Filipinos now serving in the US Navy.

A total of 1,254 are officers while 8,156 are enlisted personnel, according to Capt. Craig Thomas, military public affairs liaison at the US embassy.

There are 352,272 men now doing active duty in the US Navy.

This sense of history between the two nations was not lost on San Roque and Rafol as they now make an extended career in the military service.

San Roque and Rafol said they were glad to have been afforded the chance of serving Filipinos in communities in Basilan.

San Roque said it was her second deployment to the Philippines and she was always happy to be back to her second home.

She said she found people in Basilan to be “very nice” and that some of them were surprised to find she was a soldier and that she could speak in the native tongue.

“My parents didn’t want me to forget [Filipino],” she said in explaining why she could fluently speak the language.

“They also told me to speak in [Filipino] if people would talk to me in [Filipino],” San Roque said.

Childhood passion

Serving in the military had always appealed to her ever since she undertook the ROTC program in school, she said.

According to San Roque, her parents were disheartened at the career path she has chosen. But she told them they should not fear because she could very well handle her job.

“As long as God is with me, I know I can do everything,” San Roque said.

She described her deployment here as “awesome” and an “adventure.”

Thousands of miles away from home, San Roque said she had a “great support team” with her fellow servicemen. She said she wanted to be an officer in the future and planned to serve in the US military for 20 years.


Wanted to skip college

While San Roque had always been gung ho about getting into the military, this was not the case for Rafol.

He sheepishly admitted he just wanted to skip college when he entered the military. It was his parents who urged him to try military service.

But when Rafol got into the service, he said he loved the experience, especially traveling to different places.

“I’m lucky that my first deployment is here,” Rafol said, adding that even before his assignment to the Philippines, he and his family would come back to Manila and Ilocos  for visits.

Asked about the security situation in Basilan, he said he believed the Philippine National Police is doing its best in improving the peace and order and public safety.

Unlike San Roque, who sees a long military career, Rafol said he might go back to school and go into business eventually.

But for now, he said he was looking forward to the next four years of military service in the US Navy.

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