US Army, RTA engineers partner to build schoolhouse for local children
In a continued effort to strengthen multinational partnerships across the Pacific theater, U.S. Army and Royal Thai Army engineers partnered to build a two-room schoolhouse for the fifth and sixth grade children in Saraburi, Thailand, during the Hanuman Guardian 15 exercise, May through June.
Hanuman Guardian is an annual bilateral Army-to-Army exercise co-hosted by the Royal Thai Army and U.S. Army Pacific designed to improve humanitarian assistance/ disaster relief (HA/DR) capabilities, enhance multiple technical capabilities and improve quality of life in rural communities.
In less than 30 days, the Engineering Civic Action Program team, aka ENCAP, consisting of 25 engineers from the 643rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, along with 29 RTA Soldiers, created this multipurpose building from the plans to the paint.
“The new building gives them two new classrooms with a partition wall between the two rooms,” said 2nd Lt. Robert Hofer, the 3rd Platoon leader, 643th Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “The wall between the two rooms is removable so they can also have a community gathering room.”
Although there was a spoken language barrier between the U.S. and RTA Soldiers, their technical proficiency and knowledge allowed them to communicate by using the language of engineering.
“We have the same jobs as the RTA, just doing it in different countries,” said Hofer. “We learned some construction tricks from them, like using some materials that are more common in Thailand for new uses. For example, they use fishing line to mark the edges of buildings during surveying, which helps because it stretches when people trip on it. We use regular string or chalk lines which doesn’t work as well.”
Not only did the team use this time to absorb new methods to increase efficiency, they were able to focus on skills they do not get to perform regularly.
“The mission definitely improved our construction proficiency,” said Hofer. “We were challenged with some construction tasks like some electrical work, plumbing, roof work that we don’t usually get permission to do because of permitting and licensing issues. I wouldn’t call where we were an austere environment, but there was definitely less support than back in garrison so we had to be more flexible IOT get things done, so we definitely became a more adaptable unit.”
This larger scale construction project was completed project five days earlier than expected, giving them time to assist with other deficiencies in the area.
“To support the new building, we also did some drainage work, so the area around the school is vastly improved, which will help with mosquitoes,” said Hofer. “This was needed due to flooding in the area. We had the building lifted off the ground by 3 feet by bringing in soil and compacting it. This added three to four days to construction. We also did the bathroom, full electrical work, and put slip-resistant paint on the sidewalk we made, so there were quite a few more construction tasks for us than normal.”
On the last day, the team, local children and distinguished visitors participated in a dedication ceremony.
“The most rewarding part of the mission was having the local Thai people and children thank us for our work,” Hofer said. “After the dedication ceremony, all the school children shook our hands to thank us. We taught them to shake hands, so it was cool they did that at the end.”
For Hofer, the satisfaction was not just building the schoolhouse but building relationships with the Thai people.
“The villagers we worked with had never met Americans before, and now these kids will associate America with the nice new building they got at their school,” Hofer added. “I don’t think there’s much that can top that. It was definitely one of the most rewarding things I’ve done and something I and my Soldiers will remember for the rest of our lives.”