By MC2 Shamira Purifoy
Continuing Promise 2017 Public Affairs
After the sun sets in Trujillo, Honduras, there will be no vital sign recordings or teeth cleanings. Instead, service members with the humanitarian mission Continuing Promise 2017 (CP-17) and Honduran residents come together for an evening of cultural exchange.
Nights like these are part of the community relations (COMREL) program implemented throughout the CP-17 mission.
Since Jan. 26, CP-17 service members have participated in 16 COMRELs under the direction of the mission's chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Don Rogers. These include nine evenings of cultural exchanges and donations, two orphanage visits, a cleanup project, and painting a Honduran elementary school.
During a COMREL at an orphanage in Guatemala, Sailors donated t-shirts, soccer balls and sunglasses to children, while members of the U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Band entertained residents with a musical performance.
Musician 1st Class Christopher Pastin, a drummer with the USFF Band, said it was an honor to perform for orphaned children in Guatemala.
"These types of performances are my absolute favorite to play," said Pastin.
"The look of wonder and joy I saw on the children's faces when we played was infectious. It always makes me think of my child, who would not be able to speak to these kids, but would be able to dance and enjoy the music all the same."
In Trujillo, Honduras, service members and host nation residents teamed up to clean a beach as part of a COMREL in the area.
Rogers said the gratitude shown by locals was worth getting his hands dirty gathering debris on the shore.
"The one thing that I've noticed here about the Honduran people is that they're very appreciative of whatever we can do," said Rogers, who is assigned to Naval Submarine Support Center Bangor, Washington.
"Doing events like this lets them know that we care about them; that we are not just here for their medical and dental needs, but for their community needs as well. It's our way of keeping the promise with Continuing Promise 2017."
Alejandro Martell, a Honduran dental student and CP-17 volunteer translator, lent a hand at the beach to support the mission's efforts.
"I came here to show I am really thankful that you guys came here to help my people," said Martell, who traveled 225 miles from San Pedro Sula to assist the mission in Trujillo.
"I want my people to get some help. I really appreciate it, and I believe they appreciate all of this work that you are doing too."
Builder 2nd Class Richard Hanna, assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 202, said participating in the elementary school painting project in Puerto Castillo, Honduras, was a humbling experience.
"I just wanted to give back to the community," said Hanna, adding that the visit will leave a lifelong memory. "These kinds of projects really open your eyes and make you realize the things you take for granted back in the States. I met some new friends here; good people I've created bonds with. I am just glad I got the opportunity to experience this country."
Rogers explained the COMRELs he leads coincide with the overarching goals of CP-17.
"Painting schools, cleaning up beaches, handing out donations and just getting to know people is a part of the humanitarian mission," said Rogers. "Along with medical, dental and all of the other facets of the mission, they're a very good compliment to what we're already doing."
The mission is scheduled to make its next stop in Colombia where service members plan to continue the trend of giving back to communities abroad.
CP-17 is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian assistance, training engagements, and medical, dental, and veterinary support in an effort to show U.S. support and commitment to Central and South America.