Across borders: Local Marine lends aid, shares culture in Myanmar
When Aaron Eldridge left his home in Kirtland to get a college education and travel the world, he didn't know his life as a Marine would take him to Thailand.
His work there is providing life-saving assistance to the Myanmar people displaced and injured by Cyclone Nargis on May 2.
Cpl. Eldridge, 20, works 12 to 14 hours each day flying over the country formerly known as Burma, dropping supplies such as food, water, clothing and hygiene-medical kits to the thousands without shelter and necessities.
"I'm happy out here. I enjoy working these long hours, knowing my work here is helping another person live another day," Eldridge said in a recent telephone interview with The Daily Times.
Eldridge is a 2005 graduate of Kirtland Central High School. He entered the Marine Corps out of school and was stationed Dec. 1, 2006, in Japan.
"My expectations were to further my education, travel the world and experience other cultures," he said. "I'm Native American, so I like to share my culture with them (the Thai and Japanese)."
Eldridge, a Navajo, made many friends in Japan and was learning new games from the Thai Marines he assisted in the efforts in Myanmar.
"I learned a game from the Thai Marines. We can't speak, but we communicate with hand motions," he said.
The game consists of three-man teams that use their feet and foreheads to hit a ball back and forth.
Eldridge, a radio technician, is assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 3. They were "deployed to Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold 2008, shifted their efforts to relief operations after Cyclone Nargis struck," a press release from the U.S. Marine Corps stated.
While the Marines work hard making drops of supplies to the people to Myanmar, they have had not contact on the ground because of the local government.
"It's a little frustrating. Thousands and thousands of people are in need of supplies and it's frustrating that we can't do more," Eldridge said. "All we can do is drop it off and say, Here you go.'"
Eldridge was raised with a patriotic spirit found in many Navajo. Several of his family members served in the armed forces. "They're all happy I'm in the Marines. We are very patriotic," he said.
His experience also gave him a sense of pride for New Mexico.
"Seeing how other people live helps me appreciate where I come from," Eldridge said.