TBILISI, Georgia - With each alternating paint brush stroke against the newly spackled wall, Sgt. Matt Houle saw his vision come more alive. Houle and his team of 11 Black Sea Rotational Force 2011 Marine combat engineers had spent the last eight days transforming three dilapidated storage rooms into a home for senior citizens.
This was not the first of such a project for the engineers; they had toured the communities of Romania and Bulgaria renovating several schools. Nonetheless, to them, seeing the fruits of their labor and people’s reaction never got old and was the most rewarding part of their jobs.
“No matter how many times, the feeling of somebody looking and saying ‘good job,’ and knowing we did this, never gets old,” said Houle, a Boston native.
The Marines were in Georgia for Exercise Agile Spirit 2011, an exercise designed to increase interoperability between Georgian Armed Forces and Marines. The engineers’ job: to build relationships with the Eastern European nation by offering their skills to its people. Georgia, however, presented a new set of challenges than Romania and Bulgaria. Their originally planned project got cancelled, and they were left with no supplies, no money and no work to do.
Capt. Charles Nassar, the officer in charge of the engineers, quickly sprung into action to make the engineers visit to Tbilisi a productive one and ultimately one that would be remembered.
In the meantime while they waited for a new project, the engineers went to work building toilets, urinals, sinks and showers at the training area where the Marines and Georgian soldiers would camp for two weeks of Agile Spirit.
Not before long and after talking to several schools, refugee centers and orphanages, Nassar arrived at a senior citizens home that was in need of some restoration.
“I offered our services to the director and explained that we had no materials or supplies, but we can offer the labor of Marines who want to work,” recalled Nassar, the Sterling Heights, Mich., native and high school counselor.
The Marines, from juniors to the officer, all pitched in to purchase the necessary materials to renovate the three storage rooms in the senior citizens home.
Their initial plan to paint three rooms saw new problems arise each new day. Walls were cracked, wood on the floors were splitting out, there was water damage and bugs inhabited the storage rooms. Their work seemed mounted, but the BSRF-11 engineers, armed with their arsenal of saw drills and hand tools and help from seven Anti-Terrorism Battalion combat engineers, went into battle against the build up of deterioration on the storage rooms.
“The whole thing was a bit of a challenge; one problem after another, but we’re pretty good problem solvers,” said Houle. “You come up with a quick solution and keep moving on, adapt and overcome and use things at your disposal to make things happen.”
The engineers plastered new drywall and painted it. They ripped out the old floors and put in some cement, then installed linoleum floors.
After 960 man hours and 650 self contributed dollars to buy 150 liters of paint, 76 square meters of linoleum, 20 liters of adhesive glue, 19 bags of spackle and 2 bags of mortar, the storage rooms were habitable and it was time to celebrate.
Nino Dvalishvili, the senior citizens home director, cooked the engineers lunch to show her appreciation. A smile stayed lit on her face as she watched the Marines stuff dumplings into their mouths.
“I thank the Marines so much for everything,” she said. “They do their job very well, and we’ll always remember of them.”
The combat engineers spent their Agile Spirit focusing on building a lasting relationship with the Georgian people.
“We relish the opportunity to show people that we’re not just the best warfighters but can also contribute to the humanitarian effort as well and leave Georgia a better place,” said Nassar. “More importantly, us giving to the community will continue to perpetuate over the years even after we’re gone.”