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    From high school to Senegal


    Photo By 1st Lt. Nathan Rivard | Pfc. Thomas Collier, 131st Engineer Company, watches and directs Pfc. Antoine Benjamin...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard 

    172nd Public Affairs Detachment

    BARGNY, Senegal – Less than two years ago, senior Thomas Collier was sitting in physics class with Mr. Considine, waiting to hear the bell for the last time at Hazen Union High School. Now, Pfc. Thomas Collier is in sunny Senegal building a training site for an engineer school.

    “I'm here to build classrooms with two conexes and cover it with a roof. They will be used for classroom instruction before the Senegalese go to the training lanes. They will also be used after training for after action reviews to see where they can improve.”

    This is Collier's first time overseas. The farthest he has been from home with the Vermont National Guard was the Joint Readiness Training Exercise he went to last summer in Fort Polk, Louisiana. Senegal is an enormous change of environment for a first trip out of the country.

    “It's hard getting past the language barrier, but once we do we tend to get a lot done,” he said. “You so get used to everyone speaking English, operating equipment the same, and just doing very similar things. The language definitely takes some getting used to. We are all working on it with simple phrases though.”

    In unfamiliar territory Collier still finds similarities between home and Senegal.

    “Definitely a culture shock,” he said. “You realize how good we have it in America. It feels good to make a difference and help a country that is less fortunate than we are. We are all really hard workers and the Senegalese work just as hard, so they are just like us when it comes to the work site.”

    Collier was happy to experience this at such a young age. Culture days were built into the trip in order for the Soldiers to learn about the countries and it's history.

    “It was cool going to Goree Island,” he said. “Learning the history of how the slave trade worked and how it was a problem for more than 300 years. We learn about it in the U.S., but when you're on an island that sold 20 million slaves, it puts a whole perspective on it.”

    Building experience at such a young age is only one of the reasons why Collier feels blessed to come here. He believes what they are doing to help truly matters.

    “This job is important because they have landmines here,” Collier said. “We have manuals to train on it, but it's not something we actually think about in the United States. Building this site will allow them to train people to find and remove landmines making their people safer.”

    Looking back at his high school days, he couldn't image being in Africa and operating heavy-equipment in 80-degree weather in the middle of February.

    “Out of everything, I thought I'd do in high school, this was not even close to what I thought. I'm grateful to be here and amazed at what I am doing now. This is way different than sitting in physics class.”



    Date Taken: 02.14.2015
    Date Posted: 03.26.2015 17:07
    Story ID: 158219
    Location: BARGNY, SN

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    Downloads: 1