VLASENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina, --
Airmen from the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Civil Engineer Squadron are pressing ahead full bore with two humanitarian construction projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina officials said here today.
The engineering projects are part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program. As the name implies, the program partners U.S. states with foreign governments to establish long term military-to-military contacts to promote interoperability and support democratic institutions. Maryland is currently one of the few states that is partnered with two countries: Bosnia and the Baltic nation of Estonia.
According to Lt. Col. John P. McVicker, commander of the Middle River-based squadron, the Maryland Air National Guard is helping to restore an elementary school and a monument to three American diplomats who died during Bosnia's civil war.
"We've got 72 people split between two locations," McVicker said. "Obviously, most of our effort is being put into getting the school up and running. What we're doing here is something the local community could never afford on their own. It will make a huge difference for the children here."
The unit began arriving in Bosnia on July 13, and most members will stay through July 25, when troops from California will take their place. Approximately 15 of the Maryland engineers will stay on to provide continuity and see the projects through to completion.
This is the second major humanitarian assistance deployment the Maryland Air National Guard has conducted to Bosnia under the State Partnership Program. In 2006, the 175th Medical Group deployed to the Srebrenica area of Bosnia, where they provided medical care to more than 2,000 civilians at 14 remote villages.
According to McVicker, the Maryland Air Guard intends to return to Bosnia to help with additional projects in the future.
"We're looking at a five-year plan," McVicker said. "We need to assess the things they'd like done and see where we can help out."
In addition to the benefit the local population derives from the project, deployments of this nature also helps the U.S. military meet its training objectives.
"We get experience in planning and actually deploying to a foreign country," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael W. Bosse, civil engineering manager for the 175th Wing. "You can practice your skills at home all you want, but until you have to actually go someplace and do it, with the language barriers, the infrastructure limitations, and all the other things you didn't count on, you don't really understand the challenges that are involved."