Wisconsin Guard Engineers build schools and friendships in Trinidad
April 19, 2008
TRINIDAD - A lot of people come to Trinidad to enjoy a tropical vacation, but the Soldiers of the 829th Vertical Engineer Battalion, Wisconsin National Guard, came to Trinidad to help build clinics and schools as part of Beyond the Horizon, a joint and international humanitarian mission sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and planned and supervised by U.S. Army South.
Staff Sgt. Jean Sackmann said there are three detachments here from Wisconsin in support of Beyond the Horizon. Along with the 829th from Chippewa Falls, there is also Detachment 1 from Richland Center and Detachment 2 from Ashland. Sackmann, who is from Solon Springs, added that all the detachments don't normally drill together except when they are at annual training.
This second rotation has been busy helping build a clinic and a two-room schoolhouse at St. Mary's Home for Children. They have done the floor bracings and are currently working on completing the walls of the building.
When the engineers left Wisconsin it was snowing. They arrived in a country with hot humid weather.
"We had a dramatic climate change," said Pfc. Adam Collins, who is from Rhinelander.
It didn't take them long to get used to the heat at the work site.
"The first couple of days were rough," said Sackmann, "but we have acclimated."
The Soldiers are using the Canadian-developed Royal Building System, which has modular sections that, when assembled, can withstand hurricane-force winds.
"It has been a lot of fun building this," said Staff Sgt. Ron Isola, adding that this was a change of pace from his civilian job as an industrial mechanic at a retail warehouse.
"This is my last mission before retiring," he said.
Isola was deployed to Iraq from 2001 to 2002.
This has been a great cultural experience for the Wisconsin Guardsmen. They have built friendships as well as buildings while working with Trinidad and Tobago engineers, and have even sampled some of the local food.
When they do take a break on the work site, the Soldiers like to play football and rugby with the kids at the school.
"My favorite part is when the kids come out (to play)," said Collins.
The greatest experience for them, though, has been helping others.
"It is all for the kids. That is why I volunteered for the mission," said Sackmann.