New Jersey Air National Guard civil engineers conduct Humanitarian and Civic Assistance renovation projects in Albania

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Andrew J. Moseley
  • 177th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
New Jersey Air National Guard civil engineers and Army Reserve civil affairs Soldiers teamed up with their Albanian army counterparts to renovate a school and medical clinic July 2-16, 2016.

"Our engineers are working, practicing their skills, which is vital for their career fields such as structures, carpenters and heavy equipment operators," said Capt. Andrew Matejek, 177th Fighter Wing Civil Engineer.

The 177th Fighter Wing Civil Engineer Squadrons' deployment was the second phase of the demolition, construction, and renovation project begun by New York Air National Guard's 107th Civil Engineer Squadron.

The projects included painting, plumbing, electrical, structural, concrete, ceramic tile, roofing, door and frame maintenance.

The 177th civil engineers traveled to Albania by request of the National Guard Bureau, as New Jersey and Albania are paired under the National Guard's State Partnership Program, and in coordination with the Office of Defense Cooperation through the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania.

Changes from the original plans, building materials and rented equipment with non-U.S. standard specifications made finishing the projects on time difficult but not insurmountable.

"This project is important to prepare them for worldwide deployments," said Matejek. "So they have the skills and knowledge to overcome challenges."

U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lt. John Sorich IV, 457th Civil Affairs Battalion, 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, based at Kaiserslautern, Germany, led a four person team, including an Albanian officer as an interpreter, who served as the project liaison. "We are able to liaise for the U.S. Embassy and for U.S. Forces, so the engineer crew can work on the project. That way, we enable them to do their job and at the same time engage those key leaders," said Sorich. "We are all about building relationships. One year, two years from now, they're going to remember those American Airmen that came out and worked with them."

The improvements to the clinic will have a lasting, positive effect.

"According to the mayor, the clinic was unusable, only having running water during the times the city had the water turned on," said Matejek. "We installed a 5,000 liter water tank so the facility could always have running water. It is a huge improvement and they're going to have a much better facility to treat everyone."

The challenges gave the unit many experiences to take with them to the next deployment."The lessons learned will go back to Guard Bureau for all Air National Guard units, to take with them to their next state partnership project," said Matejek.

"The Albanian military has been instrumental in helping get this project completed on time," Matejek said. "They helped with both the medical clinic and the school, and they housed us in their barracks. I can also tell that they are happy to help the local community as they interact with individuals who have come to the clinic looking for help, in speaking the local language and explaining what we're doing here you can tell they're proud of us being here and they're proud to help us."

Peace Corps volunteer Debbie Thomas summed up the experience: "This collaboration was so fantastic for these communities. It was a strong reminder of the cultural foundations of being an American and the responsibilities of helping others."