Have you wondered who would respond in the event of a life-threatening medical situation? Would that worry influence where you lived and worked or would it be a factor in your decision to visit an area?
For the people in and around the region of Kolasin, Montenegro, that issue has been greatly mitigated thanks to EUCOM, the Seabees, the Defense Attaché Office and the Armed Forces of Montenegro.
Kolasin is located on the main highway between the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, and Belgrade, Serbia. The scenery on the drive from the capital is stunning and validates Montenegro’s public relations campaign to “Experience Wild Beauty.” At the same time, however, the area is isolated because of the mountainous terrain. Its winding mountain roads, with its tunnels, hairpin turns and drop-offs make even the most confident drivers proceed with the utmost of caution.
The region has also been part of the Government of Montenegro’s health care reform initiatives to provide equal access to high-quality medical care across the country and part of the U.S. government’s commitment for the development of the northern part of the Montenegro. Here is a link from the Prime Minister of Montenegro’s English site: http://www.predsjednik.gov.me/en/news/101508/PM-Djukanovic-welcomes-US-support-to-health-programme-in-North.html .
Since July, 23 Seabees from Naval Construction Battalion SEVEN have called Kolasin home. Living in the barracks with the Montenegrin soldiers, some who assisted with the project, the Seabees were tasked to construct an urgent care facility in Kolasin in conjunction with the humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercise Medical Central and Eastern Europe Exercise 2010, known as MEDCEUR10.
On Dec. 1, CAPT Nickle, the EUCOM Command Surgeon, and I joined the Seabees and soldiers from Montenegro’s Armed Forces in celebrating the completion of a high-quality building that showcased their skill and eliminates the need to transport critical care patients 1.5 hours to the capital through the mountain pass.
The Prime Minister of Montenegro hosted the event, providing the keynote speech and, together with the U. S Chargé d’Affaires, unveiled the dedication plaque. For me, it spoke volumes as to the importance of this region and this project to the people of Montenegro. As one local citizen told me, “This project will save lives!”
Being a Seabee, I am a little biased to our work. I privately walked the grounds taking mental note and relishing in the knowledge that we have a deployable force able to produce a product with such a high standard of construction, while overcoming several significant barriers, in such a relatively short period of time. I wasn’t surprised, but very proud! As well, I could not help but feel a little nostalgic…and a little envious of my younger counterparts.
As a final note, I was blown away by the outpour of support from the local community and the local military unit stationed in Kolasin. I cannot overstate the hospitality shown to us during our visit and to our forces during the construction of the facility. Nothing would have been possible without their support. When I said earlier that the Seabees called Kolasin home for 4.5 months, I saw first-hand why so many had a difficult time leaving.
Thinking back, I felt truly grateful to personally bear witness to our partnership with Montenegro. I also look forward to hearing testimonies of people who will have a second chance at life because of the construction of that urgent care facility built by Seabees and the Armed forces of Montenegro!
CAPT Greg Zielinski
Civil Engineer Corps, US Navy