Ohio National Guard Engineers Help Refurbish School Buildings Throughout Serbia
on Monday, 24 August 2009

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Story by Sgt. Sean Mathis

Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, along with members of the Serbian armed forces, are remodeling schools throughout Serbia from Aug. 15 until school starts on Sept.1.

The Ohio Army National Guard's 1194th Engineer Company and the Ohio Air National Guard's 200th RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) are currently helping to refurbish schools in Sokobanja, Lapovo, and Prokuplje as part of the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The program supports the U.S. European Command's military-to-military exchange program designed to facilitate familiarization with the operations of the U.S. Armed Forces. Ohio's partnership with Serbia began in September 2006.

"We are totally self-sustaining and world-wide deployable," said Staff Sgt. Brock Mowry of the 200th. "We're here to teach them our techniques and learn their techniques and build international relationships."

The RED HORSE is working in conjunction with the Serbian armed forces on adding insulation and improving the facade of the Neven elementary school in Prokuplje.

"We're refinishing the school and installing a thermal barrier, increasing energy efficiency by eighty percent," Mowry said.

The troops will remove a stucco finish from the school's outside wall, then apply a primer to clean and provide a solid base from which to apply a layer of mortar. On top of the first mortar layer, a layer of Styrofoam insulation is applied, then another layer of mortar and finally a stucco finish.

Pavlovic Dusanka, the Neven elementary school principal, said the school had problems with the facade, windows, roof and drains. The school houses 850 children from the city of Prokuplje and the surrounding villages who are divided amongst three buildings.

"I'm very happy with the partnership with America. By this project, the school is widely publicized and it is an honor," Dusanka said.

While the work on the outside walls at all three schools will be completed by the U.S. military engineers, private civilian contractors will repair other areas of the school. During an initial analysis in April 2009, the projected funding for the Lapovo High School project was $200,000 while $50,000 was projected for Sokobanja's Mitropolit Mihailo primary school.

In Lapovo, the building's facade and paint is the priority for the 1194th Engineer Company, but the additional task of repairing the clay tile roof was delegated to a contractor. Also, the school's septic tank is too small for the 200-plus students and will now become a project for U.S. Navy Seabees, who will remain beyond the initial Sept. 1 completion date, the day before school starts.

Though the logistics of repairing the school can be difficult, the logistics of taking care of the Soldiers working on them was easier than predicted as Serbian civilians welcomed the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen with open arms. Locals brought gifts of food and drink—primarily watermelon and Turkish coffee.

The Serbian armed forces welcomed the U.S. military members as well, trading patches and introducing them to key phrases of the Serbian language. Both the U.S. military members and the SAF interacted with the community as well, playing basketball on local courts and visiting local attractions at the invitation of the city mayor.

"We're not just building a kindergarten, we're making friendships, friends I'll have my whole life," said Petar Vesovic, a translator for the engineers working in Prokuplje.

Vesovic became involved with the Ohio National Guard's humanitarian project through UNICEF.

"I'm happy to help, the people are happy to help," Vesovic said. "All the children that go here will know that Serbians and Americans are friends now."

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Last update: Monday, 24 August 2009

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