A gesture from the heart
June 2, 2011
GONAIVES, Haiti - What motivated the United States to send its Army engineers to Haiti to help?
Jeean Babtiste Moncleste asked the question after observing the progress the 716th Engineer Company had made on a medical clinic construction project that the Reserve Soldiers were working on in Bardon Marchand with their counterparts from the Belize Defence Force’s Light Engineer Company.
Moncleste is the principal of the National School of Bardon Marchand, and the construction was taking place next to his institution. He said that he was looking forward to the project’s completion, because of the need for such a facility.
“Some of the kids come in with sicknesses, [and] there’s no other clinic nearby,” Moneleste said. “I can just send them right over here. I’m happy that you guys put the clinic here.”
“Being able to provide something…that make their lives easier, to me, is the greatest thing we can do,” said Sgt. Joao Daluz, 716th Engineer Company and noncommissioned officer in charge.
Approximately 35 minutes away, another team of 716th and BDFLEC engineers was helping to build a three-room school, a latrine and a second medical clinic.
The 716th and the BDF engineers augmented Task Force Bon Voizen, which means Good Neighbor, to help build the three facilities as part of exercise New Horizons Haiti 2011. The exercise is a humanitarian and training effort, so the first-line leaders of both organizations seized the opportunity to cross train many of their Soldiers.
“Plumbers ended up doing something electrical, and electrical guys ended up doing some plumbing,” said Staff Sgt. Neal Hastings, NCOIC of the medical clinic project at Upper Poteau. “I had one guy who knew how to put in a drop ceiling, now I have four…, because he trained them.”
Cpl. Alejandro Canelo, a welder with the BDFLEC, did masonry and carpentry at the Upper Poteau medical clinic, and he was able to use a tool that had always appealed to him.
“Back in Belize I’d seen carpenters using jigsaws, and I always wanted to use one,” Canelo said. “I got to that here. It wasn’t as hard as I thought.”
Spc. Robert Page, a 716th plumber and New England native, acclimated the hard way to the tropical climate when he worked on the roof of the Upper Poteau School project.
“I’d never worked on a metal roof before; it gives a whole new meaning to cat on a hot tin roof,” Page said. “The first day I was up there, it was about 100 degrees. I could actually feel the hot roof underneath my steel toe boots.”
The progress the 716th made on all three projects while working with the BDFLEC engineers is a testament to the working relationship they established during their two weeks together. The cohesion reached a point where some of the engineers exchanged addresses and discussed vacationing in each other’s hometowns.
“I don’t know why anybody would want to come to Maine, but it’s a vacation, right?” Hastings said referring to the climate differences between the two regions.
“These guys are hilarious to work with,” said Lance Cpl. Meredith Bregal, BDFLEC. “They’d be there just motivating you, having a laugh while working.”
Many of the engineers understood the critical nature of the mission, and took a level of comfort in knowing that the people they came to help appreciate their work.
“It makes us feel a little better about what we’re doing,” said Sgt. Cory Syvinski, 716th Engineer Company, and NCOIC of the Upper Poteau school project.” We’re actually helping people, and in some cases we can see right around the job site the people that we’re going to be impacting.”
“Only a handful of us got the opportunity to come here,” Bregal said. “Using my skills to do something good is something that I feel proud of.”
“The gratitude these people have…is pretty awe inspiring,” Page said. “You can see they’re genuinely happy to see us. It’s pretty hard to hide that, they smile, and they wave.”
At the Bardon Marchand site, the engineers built mini soccer goalposts for the NSBM students, and they fixed swing and seesaw sets on the playground.
Staff Sgt. Megan Moore, who on a few occasions received captured lizards as gifts from children, used chalking compound and tape to repair shoes that appeared irreparable on the students’ feet.
To date, it’s unclear whether Moncleste found an official answer to his question about the motivation behind the United State’s willingness to help his country.
“Your country loves God as much as our country [does], was it the Lord who motivated you guys to help us?” Moncleste asked rhetorically.
“It’s in your heart to help this country get better,” Moncleste concluded.