DILI, Timor-Leste –
Those who have worked closely with Melvin Cabebe during his time on the island nation of the Republic of Timor-Leste are quick to comment on his friendly demeanor and his unrelenting work ethic.
“I don’t actually know when the guy sleeps.” said Maj. John Anderson, Chief of Defense Cooperation. Anderson is lead military advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste.
For U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Melvin Cabebe, no job is too big or too small. Cabebe has spent the last six months forward deployed to Timor-Leste as part of U.S. Army Pacific’s Operations in Pacific Island Countries (OPIC). Operations in Pacific Island Countries helps coordinate linked engagements and exercises with allies and partners, improving the quality of those exchanges, building capacity, and achieving interoperability between the United States and its allies in the Oceania region. Operations in Pacific Island Countries provides a forward U.S. presence that deepens relationships with allies and partners in Oceania. Cabebe exemplifies the mission of the task force through his actions.
Cabebe was instrumental in the successful coordination of Exercise Dalan ba Dame, the first bi-lateral training exercise between the U.S. Army forces and the Timor-Leste Defense Force, which ran from July 26 through August 6.
“He’s probably done 75 percent or 80 percent of the work from the embassy side, coordinating all of the USARPAC activities here [in Timor-Leste] and essentially planning and running an exercise. It’s no small feat,” said Maj. Anderson. “I would consider Melvin Cabebe and Task Force Oceania ‘mission essential.’”
Cabebe has made the most of his time in Timor-Leste, whether organizing meetings between military leadership and the U.S. Embassy staff or overseeing the complicated logistics of a bi-lateral military exercise, Cabebe is seemingly always working on building relationships.
“For a small country, there are so many exercises, activities, events, VIP visits, and multimillion dollar projects,” said Anderson. “Having professional expertise, someone like Melvin, who’s the right guy for the job, it enables mission success.”
Within the Army, the mission of civil affairs Soldiers is a particularly unique one. Civil affairs operations consist of many tasks with a primary emphasis on engaging with the civilian population in an area of operation. Oceania is one of the largest and most diverse regions in the world, with each Pacific Island Country having its own host of distinct challenges that require specific solutions. USARPAC’s small footprint “Oceania Pathways Teams” are a right-sized solution for engagement in the region. The highly trained The Civil Affairs Officers and NCOs with cultural ties to the Pacific Islands, are especially well-suited to work with the civilian population, host nation governments and various non-government organizations in the region.
“From day one, I noticed he goes out of his way to make people’s lives easier,” said Zema Semunegus, acting Deputy Chief of Mission in Timor-Leste and USAID Mission Director. “His approach ended up encouraging us to work with him and his colleagues more. There’s a particular rapport that he’s been able to create with almost everyone on my team.”
“He’s aware of the needs of the people here,” Semunegus said. “He’s aware of the kind of social and economic problems they are facing. His ideas are realistic.”
Semunegus also stated Cabebe was instrumental in getting $2.3 million in Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Assistance funding for COVID-19 response projects in Timor-Leste.
Cabebe himself, however, emphasizes that the exceptional work in Timor-Leste is a team effort. “It’s not just me working on these projects in Timor-Leste. I don’t think I need to say my name,” said Cabebe. “It’s not just one person who did it, everyone did it, everyone made it successful.”
“The COVID-19 response project is spread over three cities, Batugade, Dili and Baucau. It’s a multimillion-dollar project between the U.S. Embassy, USAID, the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, and coordination with the World Health Organization. It is extremely complicated,” said Anderson. “It’s multiple organizations, across three different countries and three different time zones and he [Cabebe] has been the primary liaison between all those entities. If Melvin wasn’t here this project might fail.”
According to Anderson, the project Maj. Cabebe is conducting will single-handedly increase the hospital Intensive Care Unit capacity of Timor-Leste from nine beds to 15 beds. Completion of the project also includes coordinating with the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to create water capacity at an isolation center in Batugade, and building a modern isolation facility in Baucau.
“This multimillion-dollar project is going to revolutionize what Timor-Leste has,” said Anderson. “And that’s all Melvin.”