News: National Guard uses skills in humanitarian mission abroad
Story by Spc. Manda Walters
BROKOPONDO, Suriname – Twenty-one service members from the South Dakota National Guard’s 155th Engineering Company, of Wagner, S.D., arrived in the South American country of Suriname July 22 as part of New Horizons 2011.
New Horizons is a cooperative humanitarian mission between the Suriname government and U.S. Southern Command with the goal of helping to improve the quality of life for the people of Suriname.
The 155th Soldiers are putting their vertical engineering skills to use in this partnership by renovating the Pater van der Pluym School, comprised of three buildings and a courtyard, located in the District of Brokopondo, located approximately 40 miles south of Suriname’s capitol city of Paramaribo.
The school serves over 400 Surinamese students and functions as a community center.
“The project is a training tool,” said Chief Master Sgt. Lee Horstman, the SDNG’s New Horizons construction coordinator assigned to the 114th Fighter Wing from Sioux Falls, S.D. “It provides military occupational specialty experience with real-life circumstances that come with completing a mission abroad, just like in a deployment, he said.
The 155th platoon leader agrees.
“This mission provides an opportunity for Soldiers that haven’t been deployed to gain some understanding of what that process is like,” said 2nd Lt. Chris Schimke, a platoon leader for the 155th. “This isn’t a dangerous environment, but they are away from home, in a foreign place and don’t speak the language. They have to find their way through everyday situations.”
Everyday situations at this work site include challenges such as working together with faculty and students on the building project while school is in session, overcoming language barriers, working in high heat, and staying hydrated.
“The students do class work in the morning until 9-10 a.m. Then it gets a little noisy, so the small kids head out while the older ones usually stay and help move desks,” said Horstman.
This help from the school residents enables the 155th Soldiers to spend more time working on other tasks, including the addition of new roofs, replacing ceiling panels, applying fresh paint, the construction of several gazebos, and pouring concrete for a walkway, he said.
The Soldiers are working to get the bulk of the building project done before Aug. 5 when the next rotation of 155th engineers come in to finish the renovations before a scheduled medical exercise which begins Aug. 15.