“What we knew then was to carry out orders for month-long, search-and-destroy operations,” said Brig. Gen. Cesar Yano, now the defense attaché at the Philippines Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“My memory is still fresh, as I recall my first three years as a lieutenant serving as a ranger in Sulu Islands,” Yano said, as he recalled how counter-insurgency operations in Mindanao, Philippines have changed over the past decades.

Yano was speaking at a ceremony on Jan. 24, to honor 18 commissioned and noncommissioned officers of Company C, 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) who were receiving the Armed Forces of the Philippines Military Civic-Action Medal and Civil Military Operations Badge.

“There were very minimal activities in improving people’s lives,” Yano continued. “I saw then how impoverished were the areas, including their constituents. After many years…we learned our hard lessons — that it cannot simply be done that way. From there, we started talking about civil military operations, capacity building, empowerment … our Bayanihan, or shoulder-to-shoulder, and the whole-of-nation approach.”

In welcoming the awardees and guests to the ceremony at John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Lt. Col. Daniel Laseria, commander, 97th Civil Affairs Battalion explained how U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, and his battalion have continually deployed to the region as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines.

“The combined efforts of JSOTF-P, together with the Philippines national police and military forces over the past 11 years have resulted in significant degradation of trans-national and locally inspired terrorist groups such as Jamal Islamia and Abu Sayaf ... and have created an environment in the southern Philippines largely inhospitable to their activities,” Laseria said.

“Your efforts, Charlie Company, and those of the civil affair Soldiers who have gone before and who have followed you, have contributed immensely to this mission’s success. Your work, in conjunction with our trusted allies and partners within the Philippines security forces, have directly contributed to building, and now refining a civil affairs capacity and capability within the armed forces of the Philippines … that have now had, for quite some time, the impressive capability to plan, resource and conduct independent civic action programs and civil affairs operations in great effect.”

Yano, who came to Fort Bragg to present the awards, noted how he is personally affected by the work of the battalion’s civil affairs Soldiers. Yano will be returning to Mindanao where he grew up, to become a farmer after retiring later this year after more than 33 years of active, military service.

“I was just there in Mindanao to celebrate the New Year’s,” Yano said. “And frankly, my brother Mindanaoans are truly grateful of your contributions to their welfare … I hope to see you in Mindanao soon. May the special operations tribe increase! Hooah!”