News: 176th Engineer Company, Royal Thai soldiers build school, leave legacy
Story by Master Sgt. James Sailer
PHITSANULOK, Thailand - Soldiers assigned to Washington state’s 176th Engineer Company (Vertical), 96th Troop Command recently constructed a multipurpose school building at the Ban Kao Rai Sriracha Elementary School in the Wat Bot district during exercise Cobra Gold 2013.
The project began last year at a planning conference where the 176th was given the mission to build. They formed teams, gathered and packed equipment and supplies for the trip.
“Our unit shipped two large containers filled with all our tools: carpentry kit, masons kit, a plumbers and electrical kit, everything we would typically need on site,” said 2nd Lt. Christa A. Draggie, site officer in charge and 1st platoon leader assigned to 176th Engineer Company. “We also brought equipment to help with the concrete masonry wall-finishing, a skid-steer loader and some generators.”
Once they got to the site, the engineers met up with their Thai counterparts, Royal Thai Army soldiers with Mobile Development Unit 34. They also coordinated with local suppliers for all the raw materials needed.
“Other things we needed from the local contractors were additional scaffolding and knowledgeable workers,” Draggie said.
The 25-foot by 60-foot modular structure is intended to augment the existing school structures with space for teaching, recreational activities and special events during the school’s academic year.
Draggie, a native of Chehalis, Wash., said they were responsible for building a “one story, concrete-masonry building with three rooms, dividable by accordion walls so if they need to open it up, it can be one large room. Two rooms will be classrooms for kindergarten-age students and the third room will be a library for the school.”
Local school officials are also very excited about the project.
“We will move the students to the new building because the old building is over 50 years old,” said Somchai Intang, the principal at Ban Kao Rai Sriracha Elementary. “The new building will have a kindergarten class and a shared library and the people in the village will also be able to use the new library.”
During several weeks of building, the U.S. and Thai soldiers collaborated on solving challenges.
“A few of the MDU-34 guys are also plumbers and have helped me figure out how to solve some different issues,” said Sgt. Dylan Zoerb, a plumber with 176th Engineer Company. “One issue was with the toilet. We usually use a wax ring as a seal, but due to the heat we needed to switch to a mortar seal instead.”
Zoerb, from Lynnwood, Wash., continued, “It has been a team effort. They have been teaching us new ways and we have been teaching them.”
Sgt. Piayut Pion, a soldier with the Royal Thai Army’s MDU-34 agreed.
“We have been working in cooperation with the U.S. Army building (this) new school. The Thai soldiers’ work has mostly been building the block walls, welding and some digging,” Pion, who was born in Chonburi, Kingdom of Thailand, said. “The Thai soldiers are learning from the U.S. Army and the U.S. soldiers are learning from us, too.”
176th Engineer Company soldiers had to adapt to local construction techniques Draggie said.
One new system she related was that “all the doors and windows are custom-made on site by a local craftsman. Because the stucco finish makes unique-sized openings, a prefab window would not work so each window is custom fit.”
“We experienced excellent support from the local community,” Draggie said. “They offered us lunch almost every day and brought something different every day. The food is phenomenal. They taught us how to fold origami Valentines, helped paint and clean up.”
“The school children have been super helpful,” Draggie said. “Mr. Intang, the principal, has been very good allowing the children to be involved in the project and not holding them back. They have been very supportive since it is their school.”
Sgt. Matthew O. Zawel, a carpenter with 176th Engineer Compay said he is proud of the “sense of gratification that you get when you come out here and do something good to help someone out.”
Zawel also said they “got to interact with a different culture and the kids are awesome. For me, it is the interaction with the kids that make this trip totally worthwhile.”
The physical structure is not the only thing 176th Engineer Company will be leaving behind. The friendships and memories will stay with each group after they part ways.
“I want to thank all the U.S. and Thai soldiers for coming here to help,” Intang said. “This building will help remind the students and the village of the friendship we have with the United States.”
The project concludes Feb. 19 and a dedication ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 20. Exercise Cobra Gold includes humanitarian and civic assistance projects, a staff exercise and field training exercises. Joint and multinational training is vital to maintaining the readiness and interoperability of all participating military forces.