Story by Staff Sgt. Ron Keenan, U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs Office
U.S., Royal Thai, Republic of Korea and People’s Liberation Army of China service members gathered with local officials, teachers and excited students at a dedication ceremony at Ban Nam Kroi school in Rayong Province, Thailand on Monday.
More than 50 service members from four nations converged at the school earlier this month to begin construction on a building which will house additional classrooms and a study hall for local Thai elementary students.
The service members are participating in Exercise Cobra Gold 19, an annual exercise conducted in the Kingdom of Thailand held in February with seven full participating nations. The exercise is designed to advance regional security and ensure effective responses to regional crises by bringing together a robust multinational force to address shared goals and security commitments in the Southeast Asia region.
Builder Constructionman Lawrence Safranek, assigned to Naval Construction Battalion 3, is here to lend a hand in the construction efforts.
“If I were an eight year-old watching all of these other nations working together, they feel like there’s no difference between us,” Safranek said. “If we took our uniforms off, they wouldn’t see a difference — we’re working together.”
The service members worked side by side sharing their expertise with one another to construct the building while the elementary school was in session.
“This is the first time some of these kids have seen U.S. armed forces,” he said. “At first they were intimidated, but soon they were playing with us and smothering us with love.”
Penrat Krueawan has been a teacher at the school for 27 years and sees the benefits of showcasing multinational teamwork.
“It’s really great to see the Thai, American, Korean and Chinese military working together,” she said. “The students and teachers can see the teamwork.”
“Working together is not about nationality,” she added. “It teaches the kids to work together.”
Republic of Korea Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Lim Hyung Seok believes this construction project has the potential to become more than just a building.
“I hope this small building can be a foundation stone of U.S., Thai, Korean and Chinese everlasting alliance,” said Seok. “It provides a good educational opportunity for the Thai children.”
In a few days the service members will return to their home countries and back to their usual routines.
“I think the kids don’t see an American or South Korean or Chinese,” said Safranek. “We’re all here for the greater good and the greater good is for these kids’ future.”
Humanitarian Civic Action programs conducted during Cobra Gold 19 demonstrate a mutual commitment to support security and humanitarian interests of friends and partner nations. The programs will improve the quality of life, as well as the general health and welfare, of civilian residents in the exercise areas.