200th RED HORSE Squadron renovate Serbian music school

MANSFIELD, Ohio -- -- The National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP) links U.S. states with a partner country for the purpose of improving bilateral relations with the United States. The program's goals reflect an evolving international affairs mission for the National Guard, to promote regional stability and civil-military relationships in support of U.S. policy objectives. Ohio National Guard is paired with Serbia, a relationship formally established in 2006. Nearly a decade later, the partnership is strong and their combined efforts are making big impacts on Serbian children returning to school this fall.

On Aug 1, 2015, members of the 200th RED HORSE Squadron, the 837th Combat Engineers and the 945th Engineer Company, all from the Ohio National Guard, left Rickenbacker Air Force Base bound for the Republic of Serbia. Loaded down with donated football equipment from Ohio Western University and 2,500 pounds of tools and supplies, the National Guard members took off for the task of renovating a Serbian music school and kindergarten. After a nine hour plane ride on a KC-135 and an eight hour drive, the very weary 40 man team arrived in the province of Bujanovac, Serbia. The next day, opening ceremonies at the Bujanovac kindergarten were held with speeches from the mayor of Bujanovac, principals of both schools, and Lt. Col. Corey Shea, U.S. Embassy in Belgrade's Office of Defense Cooperation Chief. After the ceremony, the 40 person U.S. team met their Serbian counterparts; 40 members of the 4th Army Brigade. These two teams joined together to complete this massive project.

With the language barrier as an obvious hurdle, it was quickly remedied by Google Translate; helping both teams to pick up enough key phrases to get to work. Eventually, members began to communicate not only about the job, but about similarities and differences of family, culture, personal history, and military experiences of each other's respected countries.

Together, the two countries completely demolished and retiled 7 bathrooms with new fixtures, installed 150 windows and doors, removed several thousand pounds of iron radiators, and poured a 20ft by 10ft patio, as well as 143 linear feet of curbing. The National Guard members repaired and painted multiple pieces of playground equipment and removed three hundred 20x20 inch pavers to make way for fresh sod. While the multicultural military repaired and refinished the facade of the two music school buildings, a new roof was simultaneously being constructed by civilian contractors, creating a constructional re-development "dance". Crews installed new flooring while others replaced eight electrical panels, and 1,500 feet of new wire for a complete rewiring of the music school. The renovation included installing 12 exterior lights, 100 ft track wire, replacing 100 light fixtures, 400 fluorescent light bulb tubes, 90 light switches and receptacles and upgrading the electrical capabilities to sustain adequate kitchen. Not to be outdone, the kindergarten teachers pitched in and joined the beautification by cleaning the interior of the schools to prepare for the closing ceremonies.

Closing ceremonies included a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by the Serbian Minister of Defense and the US Ambassador to Serbia.  The Bujanovac community and the National Guard leaders were pleased with the amount and quality of work accomplished.  Members of the Serbian and US military forces were happy that the project was completed but disheartened to have to leave their new friends.  The project was completed with closing ceremonies at both locations and all entities of the armed forces departed on August 21, 2015.

The state partners actively participate in a host of security cooperation activities ranging from bilateral familiarization and training-like events, to exercises, fellowship-style internships and civic leader visits. All activities are coordinated through the Theater Combatant Commanders, the US Ambassadors' country teams and other agencies as appropriate, to ensure that National Guard support is tailored to meet both U.S. and country objectives.

The Ohio National Guard has two state partners.  Since 1993, the Ohio National Guard has partnered with Hungary, and in September of 2006, the Ohio National Guard added an additional partnership with the Republic of Serbia. At home in Ohio, or abroad with international partners, the soldiers and airmen of the Ohio National Guard remain ready to serve and accomplish the mission wherever their boots are on the ground.

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