PHITSANULOK - Thailand - Five schools within the Kingdom of Thailand hosted pillar-raising ceremonies to dedicate the construction sites of new buildings each school will receive as part of several ongoing engineering civic assistance projects part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2013.
While the exercise officially begins Feb. 11, additional time was needed to ensure the buildings are complete before the exercise concludes Feb. 21. The exercise is a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored multinational, multiservice exercise that includes forces from Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and observers from other countries in the region.
Pillar-raising ceremonies, known as “Yok Sao Eak” which means “standing up the first pillar,” are designed and performed by community and religious leaders to bless the building for good luck and longevity, according to Capt. Annop Krataitong with Mobile Development Unit 34, Royal Thai Army, and chief of the site at Ban Wang Hau Krang School in the Maung District.
Service members from the Royal Thai Army, Singapore Army, and U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers have been working side-by-side to provide a brighter future for children and community members.
“This new building is very good for our school,” said Somchai Intang, the principal at Ban Khao Rai Sriracha School in the Wat Bot District. “We currently have 67 students, and with this new addition we will be able to allow more children to attend the school.”
The children have been anxiously waiting for the projects to begin and Intang took full advantage of their eager attitudes.
“The children have been really excited waiting for their new building,” said Intang. “We started teaching them English so they could interact more with the soldiers.”
The excitement does not stop with the youngsters. Parents and community members are equally thrilled to see the structural upgrades.
“Everyone will be able to use the new buildings as multipurpose rooms,” said Noppharat Sokkong, a village leader in the Wat Bot District.
While the work is exhausting, service members realize their effort produces rewarding results.
“One of the great things about being an engineer is building something that will have a lasting impact,” said U.S. Army soldier 2nd Lt. Michael R. Banks, a general engineer with the Washington National Guard’s 176th Engineer Company (Vertical), and officer in charge of the project at Khao Rai Sriracha School. “It is extremely fulfilling to be a part of something like this … helping put smiles on hundreds of faces.”
If smiles are not enough, service members are taking full advantage of the opportunity to learn each other’s profession and way of life.
“Being able to work with not just one nation, but several, provides opportunities for enhancement and development,” said Krataitong. “We come together, not only to work alongside our counterparts and enhance our job knowledge, but to experience each other’s culture to better understand each other.”
The buildings will officially be dedicated during ceremonies near the conclusion of Exercise Cobra Gold 2013. For Saditha Kudmun, an 11-year-old student at Khao Rai Sriracha School who dreams of becoming an English teacher, that time cannot come soon enough.
“My friends and I are so happy we will have this new building,” said Kudmun. “We can’t wait to use our new rooms.”
Cobra Gold 2013 will be the exercise’s 32nd iteration and is scheduled to be held in various areas throughout the Kingdom of Thailand. The exercise is a recurring multinational and multiservice exercise hosted annually by Thailand and developed by the Royal Thai and U.S. militaries. The exercise will consist of a staff exercise, various senior leader engagements, a field training exercise and humanitarian and civic assistance projects.
Other military units conducting the civic assistance projects are elements of the Royal Thai Air Force and Marine Corps, Republic of Korea Marine Corps, Tentara Nasional Indonesia, Malaysian Armed Forces, the U.S. Army’s 643rd Engineer Company (Vertical), U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, and 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, and Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, both part of III Marine Expeditionary Force. The projects, which are coordinated and supported by the combined joint civil military operations task force, are progressing steadily, according to U.S. Marine Maj. Jared C. Voneida, the deputy commander for CJCMOTF.
“All of the pillar-raising ceremonies went well and now we get to settle in and accomplish the mission,” said Voneida.