By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lynette Olivares
Minnesota Air National Guard
NASICE, Croatia, June 24, 2015 – The inspiration to serve in the American military sometimes comes from movies, friends or family. For Minnesota Army National Guard Spc. Robert Matz, it came from his nine uncles.
“All of my father's brothers did some kind of military service, but I am in the first in my family to join,” Matz said.
Recently, he joined 30 other soldiers from the 851st Vertical Engineer Company from the Camp Ripley Training Center in Minnesota for his first overseas trip.
Matz and his comrades took part in a humanitarian assistance project in Croatia, funded by the Office of Defense Cooperation and the National Guard State Partnership Program.
‘We Learn Off of Each Other’
“It [is] interesting to cross train with new people with different jobs. We learn off of each other and it is cool to be able to come up with new ideas,” Matz said.
Matz said it was his first time working with foreign troops. His training in carpentry and background as an electrician in Baldwin, Wisconsin, he said, made it easier to find common ground.
“Overcoming the language barrier was tough, because the measurements were different and we couldn’t communicate efficiently,” Matz said. “I think it also makes it kind of fun at the same time. You have to communicate with your hands or make a language you can both understand.”
The U.S. and Croatian troops worked together to achieve their mission, he said.
The men and women of the 851st VEC completed a total renovation of a roof that was severely damaged by flooding last year. The job was completed in less than three weeks and the time crunch was felt by most of the military engineers involved, Matz said.
“We have to match the way they do it and most of us have never [used] the notch system,” he said. “The Croatians like to cut everything by a chainsaw. It’s interesting and difficult because we are learning as we go.”
Matz said one of the most interesting experiences of his time in Croatia was the local village festival that he and his team attended. It included traditional, food, costumes and dancing.
“When we went to the festival and it was cool to see how word spread pretty quick how many people knew we were here,” he said.
“The culture is one big family; it was so cool how friendly they were and how much it means for you to be here.”