PHITSANULOK, Kingdom of Thailand – Marines with Engineer Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, took part in a pillar raising ceremony Jan. 30 at the To Ban Tabaek Ngam School in Phitsanulok, Kingdom of Thailand, during Exercise Cobra Gold 2014.
The ceremony signified the official start of construction on an annex building for the students to use as multiple classrooms or one large common area.
The Marines with Engineer Co. are assigned to MWSS-171, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
The traditional ceremony brought together local civic and religious leaders alongside U.S. Marines, Singaporean soldiers and members of the Royal Thai Air Force to witness the raising of the first pillar of a new structure as part of an engineering civic assistance project.
The building will offer additional space for students to learn and the community to gather, according to U.S. Marine 1st Lt. James D. Woolley, the officer in charge of the ENCAP site and executive officer with the company.
“It’s basically a three classroom building that is going to be utilized as a multipurpose area,” said Woolley. “(Along with classes) they can put a nursery in there, or they can use it to host community meetings.”
The generous spirit of the ceremony was a great example of the hospitality the Marines receive from their Thai hosts on a daily basis, according to U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. William Young, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the ENCAP site and a logistics mobility chief with the company.
“The Thais are awesome people, and they welcomed us with open arms,” said Young. “They’re giving us way more than we ever asked for.”
The pillar was raised into the foundation which was laid a few days prior by the multinational force, each nation bringing a unique and effective array of construction techniques.
“They’re showing us ways where you don’t need expensive tools and you can still get the job done,” said Young. “The (Thais) use ropes and sticks to mark the areas for the pillars. The way they do it is very effective.”
While the structure provides a place for students to learn and the community to gather, it also affords the Marines and opportunity to improve their occupational skills and support broader goals.
“The project validates our ability to plan coordinate and execute these ENCAP projects,” said Woolley. “(While) the mission is to build a quality structure and supply the school with that multipurpose building, the end state is to forge those relationships with partner nations, enhance the ability of the community to facilitate learning, and strengthen the ties with the community.”
Upon completion of the day’s construction goals, the Marines still find time to interact with the students at the school.
“We play with the kids and teach them drums, lessons in English and songs in English,” said Woolley. “It’s awesome (interacting with kids), it’s the best part of being out here.”
The project and interaction with the students at the school offers a unique chance that most Americans will never get to experience, according to U.S. Marine Cpl. Tristan B. Armstrong, a combat engineer with the unit.
“I joined (the Marines) to deploy, do something different, and be better than what I was,” said Armstrong. “This is definitely what I was looking for. It gives me a chance to do something that (the majority) of the U.S. doesn’t get to do. This is something I can go back and tell my family about, ‘Hey I went to Thailand and helped out a bunch of kids.’”
Cobra Gold 2014 is a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored multinational, joint theater security cooperation exercise conducted annually in the Kingdom of Thailand.
The exercise is designed to improve the capability to plan and conduct combined-joint operations, build relationships between partner nations, and improve interoperability across the range of military operations.