FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION (FOL) CURACAO — The U.S. Forward Operating Location Curaçao operates 24/7 continuously enabling joint, interagency and multi-national aircraft operations that conduct detection, monitoring and tracking missions in support of regional counter-drug efforts.
But that’s not all the FOL personnel do despite the mission demands. According to Chaplain (Capt.) James Galyon, deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., they conducted “a record-setting 11 community relations events … in July alone, further strengthening the FOL’s relationship with the local community.”
FOL commander, Lt. Col. Timothy Beers emphasized the importance of the FOL mission and the benefits of positive local relationships because, “The trafficking of illegal drugs not only threatens the safety and prosperity of law-abiding citizens, it also places national security and regional stability at risk. Terrorism is funded largely through this illicit activity, which is why counter-drug operations are so vital.”
Being a good neighbor is a high priority for the FOL personnel who live and work in Curaçao, and the active community relations program has demonstrated this principle to the local neighbors.
“During a recent site visit as I was speaking with the director of a local organization, a lady walked by and stopped to ask him who I was,” said Galyon.
When he told her that I was one of the Americans from the FOL, she smiled broadly and told him she was very thankful for all of the wonderful things we do to help the people of Curaçao.
“That is the perfect illustration of how the locals feel about our involvement here,” he said.
The Religious Support Team (RST), led by Galyon and his Chaplain Assistant, Staff Sgt. Daniel Coomer, have led the community relations program to new heights with the installation of roofing at the Nosweleeten Senior Citizens’ Center, laying tile and painting the facilities of the local SEDA Womens’ Shelter and tending to the animals at Dieren Asiel Parrera animal shelter.
“I always get to hear about many amazing community relations efforts our Airmen participate in throughout the United States Southern Command Area of Responsibility, but there was absolutely nothing like getting my own hands dirty, literally – and joining in myself,” said Chief Master Sgt. April Spiczka, 612th Theater Operations Group/474th Air Expeditionary Group Superintendent. “Helping out at the animal shelter on a Saturday morning was the highlight of one of my visits downrange.”
“Not only did I get to team up with our downrange personnel to do some good work, but I also got to see firsthand the sincere appreciation and gratitude from members of the local community,” she said. “I’m so proud of all of our warriors doing these events that not only make us all look good as Airmen, but also as Americans.”
Since January 2012, over 400 Air Force personnel have contributed more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service hours and donated nearly $27,000 worth of gifts and resources to the inhabitants of Curaçao. The 429th Expeditionary Squadron has no plans for slowing down its support of the local community. Two projects will be completed in partnership with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Consul General’s office in August, including the revitalization of the playground at Siloam Village.
Siloam Village is an orphanage that cares for children who have been abused and abandoned, many of whom are terminally ill. Siloam Village will also benefit from a charity golf tournament to be held in August that is organized by Maj. Ryan Bagley, 429th Expeditionary Squadron Director of Operations and Master Sgt. Philip Parker, 429th Security Forces Squadron non-commissioned officer-in-charge.
“The event is not only supporting a worthy organization, but also helping to bolster international relations,” Parker said. “Participants will include both members of the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Navy, as well as those of the U.S. Consul General’s office.”
A clothing drive, which will benefit the local women’s shelter, has already been scheduled for the beginning of October, and a toy drive for local children is planned for December.
Since January 2012, the FOL in Curaçao has been responsible for 299 sorties which have contributed to the confiscation of 84 metric tons of cocaine (worth $1.7 billion), and five metric tons of marijuana (valued at $11 million).