HUNGARY — Building and sustaining strong friendships with partner nations within the European community literally took on a new meaning as U.S. Air National Guard teams recently conducted reconstruction projects in Hungary. The units, 133rd Civil Engineering Squadron (Minnesota) and 121st Civil Engineering Squadron (Columbus, Ohio), each rotated for two weeks in Hungary from mid-July through mid-August to refurbish two barracks facilities and also repaired a roof for a school house in a local town.
According to Air Force Maj. Dave Norton, engineer, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), the project at Ujdorogd Military Training Base to refurbish two barracks facilities was approved and funded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as part of the FY09 Exercise-Related Construction (ERC) program.
"The program provides each Combatant Command with the opportunity to execute minor construction or repair in foreign countries in support of multi-national training objectives," Norton said. "Preferably, ERC projects are accomplished with U.S. military troop labor and provide excellent Deployment for Training (DFT) experience for our Guard and Reserve engineers."
Norton mentioned that the refurbishing project invested approximately $200,000 in comprehensive electrical, plumbing and architectural upgrades to the barracks, which will now serve to support U.S., Hungarian and other NATO partner Special Operations Forces training activities. Upon arrival to the barracks, Master Sgt. Ryan Dalton, project foreman, admitted the project seemed like an "impossible mission," but their objective was to hand keys over to the Hungarian military so they can use the facility.
"The barracks were originally built during the World War II era and later upgraded by the Russians in the 1960s," Dalton said. "The walls were unleveled, the wiring is vintage 1940s but after one week with our crews busting their tails we felt it would be attainable."
Upon inspection of the barracks, Hungarian Col. Atiila Takacs, Joint Forces Command operations officer, was impressed and could not believe how the units renovated the barracks.
"Their work and dedication will not be forgotten by the Hungarian soldiers," Takacs said. "The morale of our soldiers will improve because now they have a modern place to stay."
As is common in the execution of ERC projects, the Air National Guard teams also completed a companion Humanitarian Civil Assistance project in the nearby community of Zalahalap.
According to Norton, $23,000 was provided to aid in much needed repairs to the roof of a kindergarten school. The requirement was identified, planned, approved and funded through close coordination between the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Hungary, European Command (EUCOM), SOCEUR and the National Guard Bureau.
Each day during the roofing project, Zalahalap Mayor Szencz Lajosne, came out to personally thank the Airmen and residents of the town showed their gratitude bringing peaches and apples to the school.
The airmen not only rebuilt the roof, but they also donated school supplies to the school which they brought from Ohio. Speaking through an interpreter, Lajosne said, "Before, we never had any contact with American soldiers, we only knew of negative stereotypes but they are not true. They left such a good impression they were funny, hard working and we just appreciate them so much."
The successful completion of both projects is a tribute to all the efforts from EUCOM, SOCEUR, U.S. Army Europe, the National Guard Bureau, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary, the Hungarian Ministry of Defense and Joint Forces Command, and the local communities of Tapolca and Zalahalap. "In this way, the accomplishments of the Minnesota and Ohio Air National Guard Civil Engineer teams at Ujdorogd directly support EUCOM's engagement strategy to build and strengthen our European partners' SOF capacity and also improving our relationship with our partner nations," Norton said.
As for the airmen who participated in the project, the chance to perform a little bit of diplomacy for America was worth the muscle, sweat and long hour days performing their mission.
"We became a part of the community here as the Hungarians embraced us," said Lt. Col Michael Troxel, 121st commander. "Community service projects are what we love to do and we leave here with a great sense of accomplishment."