US Army Specialist Kenneth Alvanes prepares the masonry wall of a new schoolhouse as a final touch before the school is turned over to the government in Pescadaría, Dominican Republic
PESCADARÍA, Dominican Republic -- Inside the newly built schoolhouse, Staff Sergeant Obadiah Petteway stared at the walls and windows. After a long pause he turned to the soldiers watching him and said, “We have some work to do here.”
The work is to put the finishing touches on a two-room school being built as part of Beyond the Horizon 2014, a civilian-military assistance program that focuses on improving the infrastructure of Barahona Province, Dominican Republic.
Surrounded by banana trees and grazing cattle, the small village of Pescadaría is the job site for Petteway and 14 other soldiers of the US Army Reserve’s 306th Engineer Company located in Farmingdale, New York.
Next to the school is a small plywood sunshade covered by camouflage netting. Dubbed the “command post,” the shaded area is where the engineers will review building plans, store tools and take a break from the sun. The walls are covered with the hand-drawn patches, mottos and unit crests from engineer units on previous rotations. Those units did most of the work, but the 306th soldiers have only ten days to finish. They will complete the new school by caulking windows, hanging doors, hooking up electric power, completing the masonry and pouring a concrete sidewalk.
“Our mission is to get the schoolhouse complete and ready to turn over to the Department of Education by the end of our rotation,” said Sergeant 1st Class Carlos Morales, a secondary school teacher from Hampstead, New York, and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the job site. “As a teacher it’s great for me to help complete a school that will give the Dominicans an opportunity for an education.”
The engineers are a mix of electricians, carpenters and equipment operators, and have one thing in common: the desire to finish the school.
“I want quality on this job. It’s not how fast we do it, but how good we do it,” Petteway said. “We want to have a building that we are proud of and the locals are proud of.”
Despite the heat and humidity, the engineers started work immediately. The sound of scraping, cleaning and heavy equipment could be heard all across the job site.
When lunchtime arrived, so did some Pescadaría residents. A fresh batch of chicken empanadas and Coke introduced the engineers to local flavors.
“The community has been very welcoming,” said Jorge Restrepo, a Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet and student at St Johns University in New York City, who was acting as officer in charge of the job site. “We have been treated like guests since we arrived, and the food is awesome too.”
By mid-afternoon the windows were caulked, doors were removed so jams could be fixed, and the concrete block walls were being smoothed.
“We have already made a lot of progress and it’s only our first day,” Morales said, looking around the job site.
The mission is the first time many of the soldiers have left the United States.
“This is a great mission and we are lucky to have been selected,” said Morales. “Being in the Dominican Republic is great for the soldiers because it opens their minds to other things. They see how others live and get to create something that is a bridge between the US and the DR.”
With a new perspective on Dominican life and a respect for the heat, the soldiers cleaned up, put tools away and boarded a bus for the drive back to their base.
“Today was a good day. When we’re done building this school, we can come back in 20 years and it will still be here,” Morales said. “And that’s a good feeling.”