IQUIQUE, Chile -- Marines of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 24 stood side by side with Chilean Marines on a historic visit to the fire department in Iquique, Chile, last week. The Sargento Juan Aldea Fire Company was presented with an amplified sound system and spent some time afterwards getting to know the Marines. The end result was mutual respect and a great continued sense of camaraderie, which has been a key aspect of Partnership of the Americas 2007 since it began for SPMAGTF 24 four weeks ago.
The event began with a ceremony in which the fire company was given the sound system. The firefighters need it to help them perform their mission, but they lack the funds to pay for one. It will be used to help them control large crowds and will make their jobs easier. Immediately after it was presented, the Marines and firefighters began to converse, sharing stories, jokes and laughs like longtime friends.
"I've really enjoyed everything I've done with the Chileans so far out here because of Partnership of the Americas," said Sgt. Daniel Garcia, a radio operator with 24th Marine Regiment from Kansas City, Mo. "Everyone I've met here - Marines, Navy, Firemen - they've all been really humble, good men. I was glad when I heard that we could go down to the fire department and deliver something to help these guys out. It was nice just to be there."
The Chilean Marines have had a special relationship with their fire department for over a century, due to a key event that took place in 1879 during the Pacific War that is still talked about to this day. One of Chile's great military heroes, a Marine sergeant named Juan de Dios Aldea, was mortally injured while doing battle from ship to ship with his men. His wounds were very severe, to the point that the men realized he would surely die, and it was decided to leave him on the beach with the hope that someone would find him. He lay there, abandoned and alone, and would have spent his final hours in total agony, if not for the fact that he was found by the Chilean fire department. They took him in, cared for him, and made him comfortable for two full days until he died. Ever since then, the firefighters of Iquique have shared a close and common bond with Chilean Marines.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of these men in the eyes of the Marines is the way that they're able to overcome many setbacks and still complete their job. On May 21, their only fire engine was damaged and they haven't had one since. Now the only vehicle that they use is a single ambulance because they don't have the funds to pay for a new fire truck, or to repair the one they have at this time. To most in the United States, that would seem detrimental to the point that the men wouldn't be able to continue to do their job. But very similar to Marines, they know the meaning of the words "adapt and overcome," and somehow manage to do their job.
"These guys are definitely an underrated bunch, who aren't considered heroes the way that we appreciate our firemen. It seems they do more with less, and they have really outstanding, positive attitudes about it all. They all told me that they just do the job for the love of the people and I was really glad to simply be there, be able to witness it, and be a part of it because for me it was an eye-opening experience that I really didn't expect at all. I think very highly of each and every one of them," said Staff Sgt. James Palmer, Regimental Radio Chief for 24th Marine Regiment from Kansas City, Mo.
The Chilean fire department is made up of volunteers who have to work other jobs to support their families. Not only are they volunteers, they pay a small monthly fee to be firemen. They volunteer because they believe it's the right thing to do. Whenever they are called on, no matter what time of day or night, they gladly rush out to help. It is an honor for these men to be a part of the fire department, to their families and to each other, but the only reason they stay on is for the good of their city, and to men like these, that's enough.