How a U.S. Marine Forges Steel Connections Through Classroom Construction

By 2nd Lt. James Estillore

As he surveyed the crowd in front of him, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tyrone Barrion revealed a personal insight during a groundbreaking ceremony in Lasam, Cagayan, in the Philippines. “I am a direct product of the Philippine-American alliance,” he stated. “I’m very proud to be Filipino American.”

Tyrone, a combat engineer based out of Camp Pendleton, California, spearheaded an eight-week project between the Philippine Army’s 513th Engineering Construction Battalion and the United States Marine Corps’ 9th Engineer Support Battalion. The ongoing mission is to construct a two-classroom building for the second graders of Alannay Elementary School in the Philippines as part of Exercise Balikatan.

Photo credit DVIDS/Cpl. Trent A. Henry

Tyrone during a groundbreaking ceremony at Alannay Elementary School.

For generations, Filipinos and Americans have shared values of diligence and determination, forged within the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces. During World War II, an estimated 260,000 Filipinos fought side-by-side with the U.S. military. After the Philippines’ independence in 1946, over 35,000 Filipino nationals joined the U.S. Navy over the ensuing four decades, all earning U.S. citizenship.

Today, Filipino Americans have filled the ranks and risen to the highest positions across all branches of the U.S. military. Tyrone knows he is one of many before, beside and after him who will carry this illustrious legacy.

“This is not my story alone,” Tyrone said.

Tyrone’s journey highlights the intertwined history and values between the Philippines and the U.S. Born in San Diego to Filipino immigrants from the province of Cavite, Tyrone’s American upbringing was made possible by the sacrifices of his father. Retired Chief Petty Officer Frank Barrion joined the U.S. Navy in 1965, earning his U.S. citizenship and dedicating 27 years of service as a ship line cook.

Reflecting on his father’s dreams of American opportunities, Tyrone acknowledged, “I joined because it’s my way of honoring how my family got here.”

Tyrone arrived to the islands of his ancestors to serve as Exercise Balikatan’s Joint Task Force Advanced Echelon Officer-in-Charge, working alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to plan humanitarian civic assistance engagements. These included construction projects for health centers and school classrooms, no-cost medical and dental evaluations and gift-giving of technological equipment to elementary schools. By building new classrooms, local school children will have an increased teacher-to-student ratio, which will enable more tailored support and open doors for educational opportunities for these students.

Photo credit DVIDS/Cpl. Trent A. Henry

Tyrone gives a speech at the newly built Alannay Elementary School.

Tyrone’s proficiency in Tagalog, one of the major languages spoken in the Philippines, served as a bridge between his heritage and leadership role, enriching interactions with both the AFP and local communities.

“Being able to speak Tagalog has put a lot of them at ease,” Tyrone said. “One of the benefits of knowing the language is allowing folks to speak freely and openly about their plans and thoughts.”

Speaking Tagalog not only facilitated communication but also unraveled a broader shared identity. Within the embrace of American society, Tyrone’s family committed to preserving their Filipino traditions.

Immersed in Tagalog family tales and the aroma of Filipino cooking, Tyrone’s service in the Philippines was a proud and impactful tribute to his ancestry.

“I had the opportunity to grow up in the United States, while always hearing about the beautiful history of the Philippines,” he said to the residents of Cagayan. “It’s my history, your history and the alliance’s history.”

Beyond language, cuisine and history, Tyrone was instilled with the industrious spirit ingrained in Filipino culture.

“My parents taught me to be the type of person to incite action,” he said.

After nearly two decades of military service, Tyrone has collected a myriad of leadership experiences spanning across the world, including deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations – all before serving in his family’s homeland.

“It’s a full-circle moment for me,” Tyrone said. “But the students are the reason why we’re here.”

Weeks of construction, marked by the sweat and toil of both Filipinos and Americans, symbolize a shared vision for a better future for generations to come.

Tyrone affirmed, “We don’t get here by ourselves, and we’re not here for ourselves.”

Photo credit DVIDS/Cpl. Trent A. Henry

Tyrone and other service members’ contribution to the project is one of the many ways the United States and the Philippines strengthen their longstanding friendship.

This project strengthens the community and deepens the longstanding friendship between the Philippines and the United States. With the multi-generational service legacy set by his father and Filipinos who came before, Tyrone is part of a shared vision and steel connection between Filipinos, Filipino Americans and the U.S. military. “Balikatan” is a Tagalog term that means “shoulder-to-shoulder” or “sharing the load together,” which characterizes the spirit of the annual exercise and the alliance between the Philippines and the United States.

How the USO Supports Service Members like Tyrone at USO Centers Around the Globe

The duties of the people who serve take them all around the world, such as Tyrone’s assignment to the Philippines. While they carry out these crucial missions, the USO is always by their side, supporting them from our more than 250 locations both at home and overseas.

Marines like Tyrone often turn to the Indo-Pacific region. With USO Centers everywhere from South Korea to Japan to Guam and beyond, these Centers - all sporting the same amenities of our stateside Centers - provide a vital connection to home for service members stationed overseas.

And even when they’re far from a brick-and-mortar USO Center, the USO travels to provide expeditionary support, delivering crucial programs and services in locations far from the traditional resources of an American military installation.

Having a place on base to unwind and relax can be essential for their mental health and well-being, while also having a significant impact on the daily lives and duties of service members. And it’s why the USO will continue to support service members like Tyrone, regardless of if their service takes them near or far.

-This story was originally published on It has been edited and expanded upon for

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