XIN CAI, Vietnam -- U.S. leaders officially turned over the keys to a brand new two-story kindergarten in Northwest Vietnam, Hagiang Province, near the border of China, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 7. The 3,650 square-foot kindergarten boasts six classrooms and can hold up to 320 children.
Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Vietnam, Maj. Joshua Rodriguez, presided over the ceremony, highlighting the enduring partnership of the U.S. and Vietnam, as well as the strengthened alliance symbolized by the school's construction.
"Since 2009, the U.S. government, through the Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civic Action Program, has helped to construct dual-use disaster shelters, management coordination centers, clinics, bridges, and schools like this one, in many towns and villages throughout Vietnam," said Rodriguez. "These efforts are important to strengthening Vietnam's education system as well its ability to respond when disaster strikes.
He added, "these collaborative projects also help advance our defense relationship and people-to-people ties, while bringing greater prosperity to Vietnam's beautiful provincial regions."
Pacific Ocean Division Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Thomas Tickner, added his perspective, saying that Humanitarian Construction Projects are just one way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers engages with partners in the Pacific.
"USACE works closely with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Army Pacific and our interagency partners at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development in support of water and environmental security, technical workshops, disaster risk management, subject matter expert exchanges and foreign military sales," said Tickner.
Tickner also mentioned that taking a whole of government approach multiplies U.S. efforts to support the development of strong, prosperous, and independent countries in the region, citing U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, Adm. Phil Davidson attendance at a U.S. Navy-led ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil the Khanh Hoa dermatology Hospital in Cam Rahn Vietnam.
"So whether it's a Navy Facility Engineering Command project, or a USACE project, these engagements allow us to be a vital partner in building strong relationships and in strengthening Vietnam's capacity," said Tickner.
USACE Alaska District Commander, Col. Phillip Borders, who attended two ribbon-cutting ceremonies last year for USACE-led kindergarten construction projects in Kon Tum Province, said he's seen firsthand the positive impacts that humanitarian assistance joint efforts have on community families, as well as the region at large.
"What makes this project so special is the immediate benefit this school has on the kids and community members," said Borders. "We are getting to serve the youngest and most precious members of this beautiful country in a way that provides multiple benefits. In addition to education, the school provides the only form of institutional daycare in this area, as well as an added component of healthcare. This is also a tangible expression of our commitment to Vietnam's security, as well as the security of this region. It's been incredibly meaningful to work with our partners to bring this to fruition."
Xin Cai District Chairman, Vang Huong, also echoed similar sentiments.
"The school is an invaluable asset to the community, providing a safe, clean school for young students in this extremely rural area," said Huong. "It also provides a central location for children and teachers who were previously forced to travel to numerous locations throughout the province, dividing the already severely limited resources of this community.
Huong also added that the school serves as an emergency shelter, which is important, due to mudslides and heavy storm damage that tends to occur in the area. These weather trends, as well as other risks associated with the steep topography of the area, led the team to construct a retaining wall to protect the Kindergarten from potential landslide threats during heavy seasonal rains.
According to Clayton Harrison, USACE - Alaska District project manager and architect for the school, constructing the facility, which began in 2015, required the team to maneuver several hurdles.
"This is definitely one of the toughest environments to build in, given the rural area and mountainous geography," said Harrison. "But we've been able to partner with Local Vietnamese Government and interagency leads to come up with long-lasting solutions. The structures are built to endure the harsh mountainous climate with minimum maintenance throughout their entire lifecycle."
Since 2009, USACE has completed approximately 23 schools in Vietnam and has plans to construct more in the coming years.
Beyond Vietnam, USACE is partnering with nations throughout the Indo-Pacific to support various humanitarian assistance construction program projects, ranging from birthing centers, labs, nutrition centers and schools. There are currently 28 projects in various stages of, either acquisition, or design construction in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, in addition to Vietnam.