U.S., Thai military engineers build school, lay foundation of friendship
By Cpl. R. Drew Hendricks
| | May 12, 2007
PRACHUAP PROVINCE, Thailand --
After months of planning and weeks of construction, 50 Soldiers from the Bellingham, Wash., National Guard, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry, Combined Arms Brigade and 18 Royal Thai Air Force engineers participated in a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony held to celebrate the completion of a multi-use facility for school children here.
The project was an engineering civil assistance program conducted as part of exercise Cobra Gold 2007.
"Cobra Gold is considered the most important exercise in the Pacific," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Brown, commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific. "For 26 years, the U.S. and Thai armed forces have conducted MEDCAPS (medical civil assistance programs), ENCAPS and training operations throughout Thailand. Because of this, U.S. and Thai Forces have been able to build strong relationships."
Relationships--stronger than the concrete used to hold the building together--were created amidst the mortar, sweat and blood.
"Every one of us built a friendship with the Thais," said U.S. Army Capt. David Libby, company commander, E Company 1st Bn. 161st Infantry, CAB. "We were able to learn so much from them and about their culture. It is by far the best mission we have ever been assigned."
The crew started planning for the construction in January 2007. The construction did not commence until April 9, and only 29 days later the ribbon was cut at the facility dedication.
"Cobra Gold is about building opportunities. What could be more important than working together to provide opportunities for the education of young people?" said Brown.
The project was not without trial and hardship. The province the engineers were working in was hit with, what some called, one of the worst storms in 46 years. For days, they were forced to work in muddy, flooded areas.
According to Libby, the first challenge was getting acclimatized to the heat and humidity here. This was soon followed by the torrential rains. "At one point, we had four feet of standing water at our site," Libby said.
Despite the floods, the joint military engineers worked through the conditions and used techniques from both countries while learning and adapting to each other to complete the mission.
According to Libby, the Thai engineers came with few tools. Despite this, the Thai engineers were able to show the U.S. soldiers what a little improvisation can achieve.
At the site, the soldiers needed a tool for bending metal. "So, the Thais just built one out of wood and nails. They showed us that just because you don't have the tool, does not mean you can't improvise and complete your mission," said Libby.
In the end, the project took on a much bigger meaning, for many of the soldiers involved, than simply constructing a building.
"What I expected and what happened were two different things," said Libby. "I thought we would just come and build a facility and what happened was we came and melded with the community and built relationships that will last a long time."
With their mission completed, the soldiers packed up their sea bags and are prepared for the long flight back to Washington.
"It was a great experience. The people were really appreciative and working in an operation in a friendly foreign nation was nice," said Williams. "I hope they send us back again next year."
More stories, photos and videos are availible at www.apan-info.net/cobragold.