By Carol E. Davis
TBILISI, Republic of Georgia — "I have a great team; a team that has completed millions of dollars in upgrades for the Georgian people." John Gerlach, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District resident engineer said. "Building in Georgia is a challenging and rewarding job."
According to Stanley Young, a Caucasus project engineer, every time he steps into the resident office he feels an immediate energy.
"This is not a typical office environment. Although, the team is busy working on their individual projects, talking to customers, or solving a challenge, there is also playful teasing, swapping stories and sharing snacks or lunches," he said. "We're like family."
Young led the five-person local national team during Gerlach's six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
"Projects still had to be managed," Young said. "Standing in for John was probably the most challenging job I've ever had in my career. I could not have done my job without the LNs here."
"Working in the Caucasus is different. Different mentality, different culturally, different everything --you're not working in a bubble, you're somewhere else," Young said.
Projects in Georgia must adhere to both U.S. and local construction standards. U.S. standards are not widely understood by all contractors. Therefore, it is up to the team to ensure standards are being met Young said.
"George, Shalva, Giorgi and Levan are invaluable. They translate and get my message, the Corps' message, across to the contractors. They're hands-on, boots-on-the-ground. They're out there, away from their families, away from their children. They're doing the Corps' work every day, doing our bidding, making sure the projects are right. That to me is dedication."
Currently the team's big projects are a pathology lab renovation, a ship repair facility, and a health clinic.
The approximately $1.6 million pathology lab, which Young playfully refers to as "CSI Tbilisi," is funded by the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs or INL. When complete the five-story building will provide autopsy and forensic services for Georgia.
The ship repair facility project will construct a facility for use by the Georgian Coast Guard. The approximately $1.6 million facility is funded by the Export Control and Related Border Security Program. The pre-engineered, 1500-square-meter building will operate as a machine shop to repair ship's engines and parts.
The Karaleti Health Clinic, bombed during the 2008 Georgia-Russia War, is a lingering reminder of regional unrest. After a $300,000 facelift, the clinic will provide health services to internally displaced persons or IDPs, from South Ossetia and the surrounding area, who fled their homes from within Georgia and have not been able to return out of fear or risk of persecution.
Nana Kacheishvili, a local national, program coordinator, said projects involving IDPs are her favorite type of projects.
"One of our projects in Azerbaijan, the IDPs were living in barracks with horrible conditions," Kacheishvili said. "Words cannot express the miserable environment that these people and children were living in there. Afterwards, they had a 15-room, single-floor building that housed classrooms, offices, libraries, furniture, and a fenced playground. We help to give them back their respect and dignity."
"Working in Georgia is so rewarding," Young said. "When I complete a job like a school that didn't have heat, and a child is smiling; words can't say how good that makes me feel."
Mark Cameron, INL Section director with the U.S. Embassy explains that because of the partnership with INL and the Corps, he works with the team daily.
"What they do every day makes a difference in Georgia," Cameron said. "They all should go home being very proud of the work they do."