Marine Engineers Build a Bond with Schools

US Marine Corps | Oct. 12, 2021

By Cpl. Marcus Melara

U.S. Marine Corps combat engineers with Task Force Koa Moana 21, I Marine Expeditionary Force, move wood beams to be cut at Ngeremlengui Elementary School in Ngeremlengui, Republic of Palau, Oct. 2, 2021. Task Force Koa Moana 21 provides a unique opportunity to enhance relationships with the Republic of Palau. Photo by Cpl. Marcus Melara

NGEREMLENGUI, Palau -- A small group of Marines made a big impact in the community of Ngeremlengui, Republic of Palau.

A team of engineers with Task Force Koa Moana 21, I Marine Expeditionary Force, began working on Ngeremlengui Elementary School on Oct. 2. During the week long project, the Marines worked with school officials to make the school a more welcoming learning environment.

While deployed, it is not uncommon for engineers to build fighting positions, fortifications, and conduct demolition missions. However, their skills go far beyond combat operations and enable them to help communities thrive.

“We’re replacing window mesh with plywood to create a more enclosed storage room and building shelf units inside,” said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. David Medema, a platoon commander with engineer company, Task Force Koa Moana 21. “We are also covering the bare concrete floor in the kitchen pantry with tile that matches the rest of the kitchen and creates a smooth transition between rooms.”

For the Marines, this project was less about work and more about giving back to a community that welcomed them.

 “We’re trained to be well rounded and are capable of more than solely wartime efforts.”

Lance Cpl. Michael StraussHoffman, Task Force Koa Moana 21 combat engineer

“The engineers are super thrilled about it. All of them are grateful for the opportunity to work here in Palau and more specifically to make an impact with the local children,” said Medema, from Mariposa, California. “We’ve had kids running around giving Marines hugs, so it’s very apparent that they’re also excited to have this work done at the school. I’m sure as we continue and reveal the final product, we’ll continue to have nothing but positive experiences.”

School officials are also pleased with the opportunity to work with the Marines.

“The Marines helped us a lot. The schools are really happy about it,” said Walter Umetaro, an operations specialist with the Ministry of Education.

Medema said this is an especially beneficial experience for the younger engineers of the platoon.

“For many of the Marines, this is their first deployment. They’re experiencing a completely new side to our operational capability as opposed to mainly focusing on what we’re capable of doing in times of conflict,” said Medema.

Lance Cpl. Michael StraussHoffman, a combat engineer with Task Force Koa Moana 21, is one of the Marines who is currently serving on his first deployment.

“We’re trained to be well rounded and are capable of more than solely wartime efforts,” said StraussHoffman, from Rossville, Georgia. “We’re responsible with also being able to employ our knowledge to help communities.”

School officials were grateful for the progress made and invited the Marines to return.

“We’re just really happy with the help and appreciate their efforts. We hope that the Marines can come again and we look forward to possibly working together on other projects in the future,” said Umetaro.

Task Force Koa Moana is designed to strengthen and enhance relationships between the U.S. and partner nations/states in the Indo-Pacific Region while remaining COVID-19 safe. The task force has the unique opportunity and privilege of working with the Republic of Palau as a sign of the U.S. commitment to the people of Palau and its partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific Region.