LAMU, Kenya -- Rebuilding classrooms at Lamu Boy's Secondary School may have been the work that was visible here, but engineers of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) also worked hard to build positive relations with their Kenyan Army counterparts and locals during their stay on the Kenyan coastal island.
Personnel of MEU Service Support Group-13 aboard USS Germantown arrived here January 6 to work with Kenyan Army 12th Engineer Battalion personnel on a civil assistance project as part of Exercise Edged Mallet-04, an annual bilateral-training and humanitarian assistance exercise conducted with Kenyan Department of Defense forces that encompasses basic infantry skills training, a humanitarian assistance project, and medical and dental assistance clinics in several locations throughout the coastal region of Kenya.
"In a matter of nine days the Marines and Kenyan soldiers took three buildings consisting of four classrooms each and totally transformed them," said Sgt. Charles Bland, Engineering Detachment, MSSG-13, and the enlisted project supervisor for the refurbishment.
"That included replacing all three roofs and then restoring each classroom with new ceilings, electrical wiring and new overhead lighting and ceiling fans as well as painting each classroom and the entire outside of each building," Bland continued.
"Working with the Kenyans was a great experience. The Marines quickly overcame the cultural and communication differences in order to work hand and hand with the Kenyan soldiers.
"They are...very knowledgeable in construction. It was really a unique opportunity to be able to share our knowledge with them and gain some new insights into construction from them as well," said Bland, a 24-year-old Oregon native.
Despite the short timeline and hectic work schedule, Marines found time to interact with Kenyan soldiers, school children, and locals who live in the surrounding area when the work was done each day.
"When we arrived at the school we were given a warm welcome from the school head master and his staff, and there wasn't a single day that went by that I didn't have more than one person come up to me and express their thanks for what the Marines were doing at the school," Bland continued.
"Every day you could see the project unfolding, you could see how it was effecting the community...and most of all the effect that it was having on the school children themselves."
"They wanted to learn about us and we wanted to learn about them," said LCpl. John G. Mott, a bulk fuel specialist, Engineer Det., MSSG-13, who worked as a general laborer on the project.
"My engineers, and by extension all other Marines, were, and will be in the future, welcome in Lamu because of the relationships developed with our Kenyan counterparts at the Lamu Boys' Secondary School renovation," said LtCol. Scott Dalke, MSSG-13 commander and the commander responsible for the execution of Exercise Edged Mallet by 13th MEU personnel.
"I'll remember the kids the most. They would make anything for you," continued Mott, a Long Beach, Calif.-native.
"The children of the world are all the same. They all have questions, they all want to learn and they all wear big bright smiles," said Bland, the father of a young daughter who lives in Oregon. "They eagerly accept anyone and everyone."
"I didn't grow up that good, but they had it worse," said Mott. "Being able to help the children and give them a better place to learn was the best part about being in Kenya."
For additional information about the 13th MEU (SOC), view the official website at www.13meu.usmc.mil.