An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | June 23, 2015

Minnesota Guard member serving in Croatia was inspired by uncles

By Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares Minnesota National Guard

NASICE, Croatia - To be inspired to serve in the American military is sometimes driven by movies, friends or family. For Minnesota National Guard Spc. Robert Matz it didn’t come from his immediate family, but his nine uncles who have served in the U.S. military.

“All of my father's brothers did some kind of military service, but I am in the first in my family to join,” said Matz.

Recently, he joined 30 other Soldiers from the 851st Vertical Engineer Company out of Camp Ripley Training Center, Minnesota, for his first time overseas to Croatia for a humanitarian assistance project funded by the Office of Defense Cooperation and the National Guard State Partnership Program.

“We work in platoons, so we are working with them for the first time,” said Matz. “It (is) interesting to cross train with new people with different jobs - We learn off of each other and it is cool to be able to come up with new ideas.”

During the trip, it was his first time working with foreign military, but his training in carpentry and background as an electrician out of Baldwin, Wisconsin, has proven to be a common ground.

“Overcoming the language barrier was tough, because the measurements were different and we couldn’t communicate efficiently,” said Matz. “I think it also makes it kind of fun at the same time. You have to communicate with your hands, or make a language you can both understand. Different system but the same common goal in the end makes it easy to try and get to the end result.”

The end result is for the men and women of the 851st VEC to complete a total renovation of a roof severely damaged by flooding last year in less than three weeks. A task that isn’t impossible, but the time crunch is definitely felt by most of the military engineers involved.

“We have to match the way they do it and most of us have never have done the notch system,” said Matz. “The Croatians like to cut everything by a chainsaw, you also never see a chainsaw in Minnesota. It’s interesting and difficult because we are learning as we go because we have to do it their way.”

One of the most interesting experiences for Matz was the local village festival which he and the team were able to attend. It included traditional drinks, food, traditional costumes and dancing by members of the local area.

“When we went to the festival, it was cool it see how word spreads pretty quick how many people knew we were here,” said Matz. “The culture is one big family, it was so cool how friendly they were and how much it means for you to be here and the project you are working on is to complete.”