PHITSANULOK, Thailand – "Bear … ROAR!" said Spc. Jesse Brown, as he lifted his arms toward the ceiling and curled his fingers over, imitating the ferocious creature he had just drawn.
Brown is a medic with the 176th Engineering Company, Washington National Guard, Snohomish, Washington. The unit is constructing a multipurpose building to serve as both a library and a place for parents to pick up children who stay late after school.
Engineers with the Royal Thai and U.S. Armed Forces, along with service members from several other nations, are building seven schools in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2020.
To escape the harsh sun and, more importantly, to build camaraderie between the nations, Soldiers take turns breaking from construction to interact with school children.
"It's fun to see if they can copy what I'm doing," said Brown.
Brown spent the morning drawing pictures on a chalkboard in front of a classroom of students. Each time he drew an image, a different student would come to the board to copy his drawing one line at a time until it was complete. Brown would then say the English word associated with the drawn object. A roar of laughter followed each time as the children repeated the word in a language foreign to them.
"It is a great opportunity for our Soldiers to go into the classrooms, to play sports with the kids, to talk to the locals – it gives the Thai people a positive image of the U.S.," said Staff Sgt. Peter Schuldt, a construction engineer supervisor, and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the unit.
"Thailand was our first ally in Asia," said Schuldt. "Cobra Gold is such an important exercise because it symbolizes the relationship that the two countries have.
"It's important for the Thai people, especially the kids, to get to experience what Americans are like firsthand. That's so important because when they see a negative image of an American on TV, or they hear propaganda from an adversary country, they have the knowledge to say, 'Well, there are some Thai people that are bad, but I know that most of them are good,' and because of their interactions with us, they can also say, 'Well, maybe that one American is bad, but I know that most Americans are good people.'"