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One task among many

Tech. Sgt. Michael Meras of the 149th Civil Engineer (CEs) Squadron checks measurements on a two-by-six that will become part of a bench seat. He and others refurbished benches along a garden wall at a nursery in Yerevan, Armenia, during the first two weeks of August. Forty-five CEs and four other Air National Guardsmen from the 149th Fighter Wing, at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas deployed to Yerevan to complete an Expeditionary Medical Service facility and work on humanitarian assistance projects. (Texas Military Forces photo by Tech. Sgt. Rene Castillo)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Meras of the 149th Civil Engineer (CEs) Squadron checks measurements on a two-by-six that will become part of a bench seat. He and others refurbished benches along a garden wall at a nursery in Yerevan, Armenia, during the first two weeks of August. Forty-five CEs and four other Air National Guardsmen from the 149th Fighter Wing, at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas deployed to Yerevan to complete an Expeditionary Medical Service facility and work on humanitarian assistance projects. (Texas Military Forces photo by Tech. Sgt. Rene Castillo)

YEREVAN, Armenia --    The task is one of many here for the 149th Civil Engineer Squadron.
   Tech. Sgt. Michael Meras slides the two by six-inch boards into place, aligns a straight edge and with a pencil scores the boards where they will be cut.
   "I'm mostly eye-balling it," he says, answering my unasked question.
   The objective is to make new bench seats along a zig-zagging brick wall in an area next to the nursery where other civil engineers (CEs) are extensively rehabilitating some rooms. The original benches have rotted or broken away, leaving only traces. Rusty iron bolts and nuts remain in their brownish brackets, silent guardians to a shady spot along an irregular walkway. The brackets are bent and must be straightened.
   The task to replace the benches is among a myriad of tasks the nursery's principal, Nelly Mixailovna, wants completed. She speaks through Anush Ghaxaryan, a young, striking university student. She says she was asked to serve as interpreter because "they heard I could speak English." She tells me she found English easy to learn and likes to write short stories in English.
   "Why don't Americans learn Armenian?" she asks.
   "Because we are lazy," I answer. "We always expect to find someone who can understand English wherever we go."
   Anush soon returns to translating between the principal and the site project officer, Capt. Vince Salazar. Anush's eyes become big when she listens to what is being said. Her job isn't easy. She must relay the principal's wishes to the captain and then relay his explanations of what can be done and how, if it can be done. The bench work is one item on the "can do" list. Sergeant Meras jumped right into this one.
   I am trying to help. Not having the skills or training of the other CEs, I can't do much to help most of them in their tasks. Bt today I brought my gloves and steel-toed boots and borrowed a hard hat. So following reasonable safety precautions, I can at least hold and carry boards. After all, it's for the kids.
   Consideration for the children who are brought to this nursery (which Americans would probably call a day-care center) is what drives Sergeant Meras and the other CEs on this site, I dare say, more than the training experience or wider Armenian-American relations.
   The children here range in age from 18 months to 6-1/2 years. Their parents bring them early in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. They are confined to parts of the building where the CEs aren't working, but when their parents' escort them past us, they catch peaks of us and what we are doing. While adults eye us guardedly, the children's eyes dance when they see us.
   Sergeant Meras works fast. Measuring. Marking. Carrying. Cutting. Carrying back. Checking the fit. He seems wound up tighter than most of us; he is always moving. We have to carry the boards to the generator that powers the saw. He can be talkative at other times, but with the noise from the generator and the power saw and our own ear protection, he directs me with signals that indicate put those boards there, hold this board here, etc. I feel like I am racing to keep up.
   Then our bus arrives. It's time to put things away and pack our own things to take back to where we are billeted at night. My duties take me elsewhere the next morning. Later, when I return to the site, the new benches by the wall are finished. Others have helped. I take it upon myself to pick up small pieces of metal, glass and sharp stones I notice in the immediate area. More items keep appearing, and I find my little job is bigger than I thought. I sift the dirt, gravel and patches of grass with gloved fingers. I end up also pulling a few weeds and sweeping the walkways ... for the kids.
   Sergeant Meras surveys the bench work and the setting with silent satisfaction. Few people know or are likely to know who fixed up this tiny piece of the world. The 149th CEs don't brand their work like many units do. We don't get to see the reaction of the children the results of this particular task. We can only imagine children climbing on the benches more than sitting on them. We know they will less likely urt themselves - except that children always find a way to hurt themselves. And we hope some of tem will think kindly of Texans and Americans. As with all the other tasks the CEs complete on this deployment, they leave things better than they found them.