Land was in sight in our seventh day on board the USS Juneau. It was the Philippine archipelago and its storied shores. Balikatan would soon commence for us. Balikatan, from the Filipino word balikatan (cooperation), is an annual bilateral training evolution between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines. For my unit, this consisted of American and Filipino marines working together as a tight-knit and integrated force. Moreover, we were to learn a thing or two from them and they from us. Ideally.
But training and all of its assorted inconveniences were far from my mind at the moment as I sat on the weather deck and watched the sea birds gracefully skim the water’s surface at the ship’s wake. The gentle sea breeze eased my mind and body as the warm water beckoned. In the distance was the Harper’s Ferry, cruising slowly along the Philippine coast. It was not too hard to imagine another marine or sailor on that ship similarly contemplating jumping into the inviting blue depths of the Pacific.
It has been nearly six years since I have last visited the Philippines. My family was in the middle of a PCS and we decided to spend that summer with different relatives. My mother and little brother stayed with my aunt in Florida, while my sister and I enjoyed a rainy, but quite relaxing summer in the Philippines. For those few weeks, it was Mama’s tiny house in Olongapo City that was home.