VELIKO TARNOVO, Bulgaria - Education plays a key role in a child's future. Some children in Bulgaria had their future brightened by Soldiers.
U.S. Army Reserve and Bulgarian Soldiers conducted construction operations Aug. 3 to 19 at two schools in Bulgaria, concluding with ceremonies Aug. 19.
Approximately 15 Soldiers from the 390th Engineer Company out of Chattanooga, Tennessee and 10 Soldiers from the Bulgarian Army worked together to improve conditions for children attending these schools. The Humanitarian Civil Assistance projects were funded by U.S. European Command through the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation Bulgaria.
In Veliko Tarnovo, the Soldiers replaced a roof on Prolet Kindergarten and in Tsersova Koria, improved a bathroom and two classrooms. The roof was completely retiled and all the gutters were replaced at one school. At other school, the bathroom was gutted, then retiled and all fixtures replaced as well as two classrooms painted and four ceiling fans and two heating and cooling units installed.
"It makes me feel really good that we're going to be able to help these kids out. This building is 50-plus years old and it hasn't seen any remodeling or anything nice in a really long time," said Sgt. Clinton Dodson, 390th Eng. Company, site noncommissioned officer-in-charge in Tsersova Koria. "I hope it's going to help them and encourage them to come to school and want to learn and better themselves to get an education here in Bulgaria."
The U.S. Soldiers worked side-by-side with the Bulgarian Soldiers trying to improve and share their skills.
"My guys have been trying to get in there and learn the ways they do things here, it's a little different than what we do in the States, but we are learning, adapting and overcoming," said Dodson, a Sparta, Tennessee, resident.
While the Soldiers learned from each other, it wasn't always easy.
"About the biggest issue we have is the language barrier," said Spc. Noel Loera, 390th Eng. Company, construction engineer. "It's hard to have one or two interpreters moving consistently and needing the language at all times to communicate with them."
While there may have been some communication issues, the U.S. Soldiers were impressed by the Bulgarians.
"They're very hard-working, humble people. They want to do nothing, but help us, help their country," said Loera. "We've tried to converse back and forth as best we can to accomplish the mission."
The troops did find a universal language: being a Soldier.
"We have each other to boost each other up, boost the Bulgarian soldiers and they do the same for us. Morale has been really good as far as teamwork amongst ourselves and with the local people," said Loera, a Miami, native. "The local people really like what we're doing here and knowing they can rely on us to help them out really boosts our morale very, very much."
While the community likes the projects now, this is something that will endure for the future.
"It's rewarding to me, rewarding to the guys I work with," said Loera. "I know I'm going to go back home to the States knowing that although it may be one school, two schools, in the end we're helping multiple kids and it's not going to be just a few years, it's going to be generations of children and building that bond with this country as best we can."
The U.S. Soldiers expressed thankfulness for working projects where they were desperately needed.
"I would love nothing more than to come back here. I've been all over the world and this is one of the place I see can use our help as much as possible," said Loera. "It starts out with just one, two schools, but I would love for us to move on to five, 20, 100 schools, government buildings, homes if possible, in the future."
While Loera may not come back soon, there are other HCA projects planned for next year to continue improving educational and medical resources for the people of Bulgaria.