KRALJEVO, Serbia — A 5.3 magnitude earthquake that occurred here on Nov. 3, 2010, was strong enough to be felt in neighboring countries and damaged almost 6,000 buildings in the town. One of the structures damaged was the Svetozar Markovic Primary School. Since early August this year, the Ohio National Guard and the Serbian Armed Forces have been teaming up to make improvements to portions of the school and fix the gym, which was damaged to such a degree that it hasn’t been used in more than a year.
Soldiers from the Chillicothe, Ohio-based 1194th Engineer Company, Airmen from the Camp Perry- and Mansfield-based 200th RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) Squadron and engineers of the Serbian 2nd Army Brigade have been working together on this joint construction mission, which includes multiple projects such as replacing the gym floor, installing new playground equipment, repairing and installing a roof, and fixing and updating portions of the electrical wiring and plumbing.
Working with members of the Serbian Armed Forces has been a rewarding experience, said several Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.
“We have Soldiers from the Serbian Army that are available to translate for us,” said 1st Lt. Roger Nienberg, officer-in-charge of the joint mission and a member of the 200th RED HORSE. “If a translator is not available, sometimes both sides will use charades to explain what you need or want to accomplish. Everyone understands the overall concept of the project and what needs to be done.”
Sgt. Matthew Birkofer, a member of the 1194th Engineer Company and a Cincinnati, Ohio, native, added: “We are all working together well. Everyone is open to everyone else’s ideas; it does not matter who they are or what unit they are with.”
Doing construction work in a foreign country creates a few challenges, Birkofer said. “The hardest thing that we have had to adjust to is the European Standard of construction,” he said. “The overall construction concepts are the same but the Serbians have a different way of doing things.”
Birkofer said there are also differences in assembling pipes, construction materials and electrical wiring that runs at a 220 voltage as opposed to the 120 voltage system used in the U.S.
“The partnership between U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and the Serbian Armed Forces is proving to be a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Drzik of the 1194th. “We are all learning from each other. We feel that we are helping to foster an environment of international society”
The Ohio National Guard Soldiers will continue their mission in Serbia through late August. The official completion of the project will be in early September.