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Croatia and 108th CE cement bonds
Photos and story by Staff Sgt. Barbara Harbison, 108ARW/PA

A young girl finds a convenient seat to do the age-old task that children find interesting – watching construction workers doing their job. Here Master Sgt. Elliot Adkisson (left) and Lt. Col. Paul Novello work to prepare an area for a new concrete pad.

Above: Staff Sgt. Robert Mendez grasps a brick from one of the civilian construction workers at the community center work site while everyone was working to prep the building for the new roof. Below: Staff Sgt. Jhon Mosquera (left) and Pfc. Ilija Marakovic - a Croatian soldier work at sanding the slats to be used on the benches at the playground. The American Airmen and Croatian soldiers worked side-by-side creating a playground for the children of the village with benches for the parents to sit while watching the children play.

The two commanders met in a small town, ready to battle the elements, logistical delays, troop work conditions with a common goal and a common battle cry, one that every engineer understands – no problems, just solutions.

Lt. Col. Paul Novello, commander of the 108th Civil Engineering Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard and Bojnik (Major) Oliver Švob of the 33rd Engineer Regiment, Croatian Army brought their Airmen and soldiers together on the streets of Gašinci (Ga-SHIN-see), Croatia for two weeks during Adriatic Aurora 2008.

Adriatic Aurora was a field training exercise designed to train and promote the inter-operability of three states – New Jersey, Minnesota and Vermont and their respective State Partners – Albania, Croatia and Macedonia.

The 108th CES along with Croatian engineers and a small contingent of Albanian engineers worked on a humanitarian project while the American, Croatian, Albanian and Macedonian soldiers trained in various areas on the military base adjacent to the small village.

The combined forces of Airmen and Soldiers, enlisted and officers, Croatian and American, worked side by side to build a playground next to the town’s school and to put a new roof on the village’s community center that also houses the town’s volunteer fire department and more than 50-year-old fire truck.

Above: “Croatian ingenuity” comes into play: a Croatian engineer raises three of his soldier in a bucket loader while the soldiers and Airmen on the ground situate the basketball standard.

Peter Cobankovic, Croatian Minister of Regional Development and Woods and Waters Management (left) and U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Robert A. Bradtke (center) cut a ceremonial ribbon during the playground dedication while Lt. Col. Novello (right) watches.

Village children show their appreciation for the engineers' work.

Along the way, projects were added to the list and the engineers rose to their “solutions” battle cry. They added a 5-by-20 foot section of concrete by the entrance between the school house and the playground, meaning less mud to track in and out of school on those rainy days. The townspeople brought a used metal jungle gym to the site in a wheelbarrow and the engineers anchored it in place and painted it red, white and blue – colors shared in both Croatia’s and America’s flags.

Engineers from both countries found their way to the playground and adjoining soccer area, enjoying the newly installed equipment and fine-tuning their soccer skills against the young opponents from the small town.

The road improvement project was a short one that joined the 108th Airmen with the Albanian engineers, making the road that runs to the local soccer complex easier to transit and provide better drainage.

Novello said, “In any future conflict we could be side by side working with the engineers from Albania or Croatia.” He added, “We have developed a good relationship with them. But the personal reward from work is watching the kids; it’s heartwarming. I am extremely proud of the unit.”

When the work was complete, the Croatian Minister of Defense, the American ambassador to Croatia and representatives from the three states, including Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, who came to visit the site, see the engineers’ handiwork and see the village children showcase native dances.

“This project is more than we usually do; it is a challenge and training for my soldiers,” stated Švob. “Sometimes, in the beginning, we were stuck on organizational issues but we worked it out by end of day. Well trained, clever people – that means engineers.

" It was an honor and a pleasure to work with the Americans.” As the engineers left the small village, their solutions gave the community a few improvements and gave everyone insights into their different worlds.


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Volume 34 Number 3 Staff / Information
(c) 2008 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs