NERKIN SASNASHEN, Armenia (Sept. 2, 2011) -- Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the tragic flight and crash of a U.S. Air Force C-130 just north of here in Armenia.

Since Sept. 2, 1958, the people of this small, rural village have commemorated the memory of the 17 U.S. Airmen who died that day, said Aragatsotn province Governor Sargis Sahakyan.

Following a solemn memorial with the local community, U.S. and Armenian officials gathered together at the local kindergarten for a ribbon-cutting ceremony opening its newly-renovated doors to Sasnashen's children.

"Three years ago, we asked the mayor if there were any issues we might be able to assist him with," said Col. D. Peter Helmlinger, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District commander. "His immediate response was, 'We need better school conditions for our children.'"

And better school conditions he got. The $425,000 renovation project, funded by the U.S. European Command and managed by the USACE Europe District in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy Office of Defense Cooperation, provided a complete overhaul to kindergarten. The Armenian branch of World Vision International provided all new furnishings for the kindergarten.

"It's a big celebration for our community today -- we are opening the kindergarten," said Sasnashen Mayor Andranik Shomyan. "Traditionally, our community has had a high level of education. Now that we have these new facilities, I believe that the quality of education will get even better."

And quality education is something both countries have strived to deliver to their communities, Helmlinger said.

"This village is no different than any other village or town in the world," he said. "All parents place a high importance on education for their children. We are happy to support your community in your efforts to provide a brighter future for your children."

As Helmlinger handed over a traditional USACE key plaque to commemorate the occasion, he also thanked Shomyan for his efforts in bringing the project to fruition.

"Thank you for your strong support," he said. "We were able to procure the money for this renovation, but without your hard work and dedication, this project would never have happened."

It was in 2009 on the 51st anniversary of the tragedy that the ODC announced the funding to repair and refurbish Sasnashen's kindergarten.

"Completion of this Office of Defense Cooperation repair project will help show our appreciation to the villagers who have continued to bring honor to the memory of those servicemen who perished here in the line of duty over 50 years ago," said then-Defense Attache Lt. Col. Robert Webster.

Additionally, the kindergarten provided more than just an educational facility to the local community. The project also provided an opportunity for local contractors to become familiar with U.S. construction procedures and U.S. military members to learn Armenia's processes, Helmlinger said.

"[This project] provided job for members of the community and a unique opportunity for U.S. military forces to become acquainted with local construction procedures," he said. "This not only improves construction techniques on this project, but on all future projects with [the contractor] CESCO."

Including the kindergarten, so far roughly $1.2 million has been invested in the country's health and educational facilities this year. According to the ODC, this investment by the Defense Department improves the lives of Armenians through access to better health care and education, which in turn leads to a stronger partnership.

"Thanks to all of our guests," Shomyan said to the U.S. delegation. "The doors of my house are always open. We are ready to welcome you any year, any time. Our relationship is to the point where we owe that respect towards each other. Thank you very much."