By Sgt. Matthew Bragg, III Marine Expeditionary Force
The Royal Thai Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces, and other regional partner nations held a pillar raising ceremony in two separate locations in the Kingdom of Thailand to signal the beginning of engineering civic assistance projects for Cobra Gold 2018, Jan. 24.
The ceremonies involved the raising of the main pillar for new school buildings that will be built on those grounds. At the two ENCAP sites, participating forces from Thailand, the U.S., and Japan are working side-by-side to complete the projects.
Four other pillar raising ceremonies are planned at locations across Thailand. Each location pairs one branch of the U.S. Armed Forces with a branch of the Royal Thai Armed Forces and one other nation to include Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, or Indonesia.
In Thailand, it is a tradition to bless the main pillar, or the first column to be raised, during construction in order to please the spirits of the area. During the ceremony at ENCAP Site 2, a Buddhist monk rubbed white clay filler onto the pillar. A crane raised the pillar off the ground and Royal Thai Armed Forces placed the pillar into its concrete pad and stapled it down. The Buddhist monk then blessed the pillar with holy water and distinguished villagers each gave their own blessing by tossing flower petals around the column. To conclude the ceremony, the Buddhist monk blessed the villagers and participating forces with holy water.
“(The villagers) believe that to build a house, building or any construction, we ask the permission from those spirits (that reside there) before building,” said Royal Thai Army Lt. Koragot Nadech, who is with Mobile Development Unit 14. “If we don’t do this, the villagers believe it might affect the building in the future, so we asked the permission from spirits to protect the building and allow kids to use it eternally.”
Multinational forces working alongside each other, to include Thailand, U.S., and Japan, observed the main pillar as it was raised and supported into place. Immediately after, the pillar and multinational forces were blessed by a Buddhist priest to conclude the ceremony.
While the ceremony marked the official start of construction at each of the ENCAP sites, the different nations have already begun building camaraderie and teaching each other new things.
“So far it’s been about five days, and it’s been excellent,” said U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Kristopher Satterwhite, who is the ENCAP Site 2 officer in charge with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172. “Everyone has their own styles, methods, tips and tricks, and it’s just been great pulling knowledge and information from everybody.”
The faculty, staff and students of the schools were already happy to witness the groundbreaking events.
“It is good to see that (Thailand) has a good alliance between other countries,” said Pawitra Krongsuk, a student at Ban Pan Mo School. “I feel pleasant that we are considered among the people and provided a building.”
Although constructing the multifunctional building for the schools is their primary mission, Satterwhite said the exercise is about coming together for the greater good.
“Cobra Gold gives us an opportunity as different nations to come together to give to the community,” said Satterwhite, a native of Buffalo, New York. “We’re all here to show the Thai people that we’re here for them.”