V Corps engineers build structures, skills, memories during Poland exercise

Darek Sierostawski and Spc. Chris Collier, Company A, 94th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, apply plaster as part of the renovation of the Drawsko Pomorskie (Poland) hospital. (Photo by Sgt. Vincent Picard)

DRAWSKO POMORSKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland -- What makes a lasting touch? A monument built to withstand the ravages of time? A moment that can bring a smile to a man's face a year after the fact?

Soldiers from V Corps' 94th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade have found ways to build all three, through their participation in the corps' annual Victory Strike exercises here.

During those exercises, the brigade has been both the corps' military engineer asset and a boon to the Polish communities near the exercise areas here.

Perhaps the project that made the most lasting impact on a community began last year, when the battalion's Company B repaired a leaking roof on the high school in Kalisz Pomorski during Victory Strike II. The psychic reward on that material investment came Sept. 30, when nearly the entire town turned out a year after the project to both honor the engineers and rededicate the school to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I was surprised and humbled to come back here this year and see how much everyone still appreciates us and are happy to have us back," said 1st Sgt. Jeff Gliedman, who served as the project's platoon sergeant. "It had a positive impact on our soldiers, too. They were more aware of what they were doing - representing themselves and the U.S. Army. The project also served to provide the unit's soldiers with opportunities to work on fine construction, projects they don't often have in their normal mission.

"Everything we did provided soldiers with quality training," said Gliedman. He said the platoon developed as a team, giving members a chance to learn skills they did not have before.

The work those skills were honed on is greatly appreciated.

"They did a very good job. It is perfect," said Alexandra Rodecka, one of the school's teachers. "At first, we expected the soldiers to be different, but we had a lot of contact, and they are nice people."

These two results - quality construction by skilled soldiers and grateful communities - are the point of the program, according to Lt. Col. Paul Grosskruger, battalion commander.

"Every soldier is an ambassador here," he said. "We are engaged at every level, and we get great Mission Essential Task List training for the soldiers. They cover everything from reconnaissance and convoy operations to force protection and developing their technical skills."

Grosskruger said training value is one of the key factors in selecting a project. These assistance operations are conducted only in conjunction with major exercises. Money to cover material expenses comes from the U.S. European Command, which mandates that they be done during the exercise. Grosskruger said this requires a lot of reconnaissance and staffing, with extensive coordination coming from the host nation to narrow down and prioritize potential projects.

The work put into that selection is paid off by the appreciation of those whose lives are improved as a result.

"The roof was just awful," said Malgorzata Gulczynska, a second-year student. "I don't know why our soldiers did not do this, but I think it was better for the Americans to help us. We were nervous at first, but then we got to know them. It was nice for us - they helped us with our English a lot."

The same opportunity to create a lasting touch is now available to Company A of the 94th as they labor to renovate the Drawsko Pomorskie hospital. One of the company's platoons is busy working with Polish laborers to completely renovate the hospital's emergency area with new plasterwork, doors, a bathroom and showers, drop ceilings and an ambulance double door.

"The hospital has been waiting for a separate emergency unit for a long time," said Mariosz Brych, the hospital manager. "We are very important to this region, and the equipment is ready. This has been an 8-year wait."

Brych said the hospital serves more than 70,000 people, providing more than 8,000 people a year care with general medicine, maternal care, surgery and other disciplines. The new suite will provide the only modern emergency care in the region. The renovation is expected to take about a month, according to Staff Sgt. Antonio Lockett, project platoon sergeant.

"They told us that if we hadn't come here, the hospital may have had to close down," said Lockett. "Some of the work is different from what we are accustomed to, but our soldiers picked it up fast enough."

There are about 38 soldiers and 10 Polish laborers working on the renovation, and Lockett said it only took a couple of days for his troops to get into the flow of doing the work the Polish way. Some of his soldiers had never done plasterwork before. "At first, they through we were 'in the mud' kind of soldiers," he said. "But after a couple of days they were wondering how we learned so fast and worked so hard. I told them we just feed the soldiers a lot and give them water and they will keep going."The hard work and fast pace impressed Damian Adamczyk, a Polish plasterer.

"I like them very much," he said. "They are hardworking. They don't complain. They look for work to do, and even take tools away from each other to keep working. The best is that they are always smiling. I would work with American soldiers again with great pleasure."

The pleasure is not only Adamczyk's.

"This is exactly the kind of work I wanted to do while I was going through school," said 2nd Lt. Adrian Sykes, project manager. "We are helping the people of Poland and representing our country well. People have been very impressed with us. In fact, (Brych) asked as to work slower because he feels more secure when we are around. "I would do this work again in a heartbeat."

These humanitarian community assistance projects are leaving indelible marks on both the American soldiers performing the work and the Polish citizens benefiting from it. Their lasting touch is both a structural story teller… letting generations of Polish children and others know that American were here, and an emotional one…a lifting of the human spirit from a seemingly unlikely source.

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