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NEWS | Aug. 21, 2012

Ohio National Guard engineers work with Serbian Armed Forces on school reconstruction project

By Spc. Brian Johnson Ohio Army National Guard

KRALJEVO, Serbia - As part of the ongoing relationship through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, Soldiers and Airmen with the Ohio National Guard and the Serbian Armed Forces have been working to make improvements and repairs to buildings at the Svetozar Markovic Primary School here that were damaged in an earthquake that took place in Nov. 2010.

Soldiers from the Ohio Army National Guard's 1194th Engineer Company, Airmen from the Ohio Air National Guard's 200th RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) Squadron and engineers of the Serbian 2nd Army Brigade have been replacing the gym floor, installing new playground equipment, repairing and installing a roof and fixing and updating portions of the electrical wiring and plumbing. Many of the buildings haven't been used since the earthquake.

Working with members of the Serbian Armed Forces has been a rewarding experience, said several Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.

"We have Soldiers from the Serbian Army that are available to translate for us," said Air Force 1st Lt. Roger Nienberg, officer in charge of the joint mission and a member of the 200th RED HORSE. "If a translator is not available, sometimes both sides will use charades to explain what you need or want to accomplish. Everyone understands the overall concept of the project and what needs to be done."

It also goes beyond simply translating the language.

"We are all working together well," said Army Sgt. Matthew Birkofer, with the 1194th Eng. Co. "Everyone is open to everyone else's ideas. It does not matter who they are or what unit they are with."

Doing construction work in a foreign country creates a few challenges, Birkofer said.

"The hardest thing that we have had to adjust to is the European standard of construction," he said. "The overall construction concepts are the same but the Serbians have a different way of doing things."

Birkofer said some of those differences include ways that assembling pipes and plumbing are assembled, construction materials and electrical wiring that runs at a 220 voltage as opposed to the 120 voltage system used in the U.S.

But despite those differences the partnership has been rewarding.

"The partnership between U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and the Serbian Armed Forces is proving to be a mutually beneficial relationship," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Drzik of the 1194th Eng. Co. "We are all learning from each other. We feel that we are helping to foster an environment of international society."

The Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are scheduled to continue the mission in Serbia through late August. The official completion of the project will be in early September.