Exercise participants pick up trash in Macedonian town

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kelley J. Stewart
  • MEDCEUR 11 Public Affairs
On a warm and breezy afternoon, approximately 80 service members from the United States Air Force, Army and Marine Corps loaded a bus for the town of Negotino June 8.

The buses carrying the U.S. service members participating in Medical Training Exercise in Central and Eastern Europe 2011 pulled into a local winery, but the service members weren't there for wine tasting or shopping. They were there to participate in a volunteer project picking up trash and cutting back grass and trees along the side of the road.

An army of service members donned yellow reflective vests and gloves and started picking their way through underbrush anywhere from knee to waist high pulling out bits of plastic, paper, and cardboard. Other service members were taught to cut the grass back with a sickle before getting to work cutting the underbrush back along both sides of the road. And still more service members were given clippers to cut back tree and bush branches that had grown over.

This event had been in the planning stages for months. Capt. Tim Schmidt, 3rd Air Force expeditionary medical plans and operations chief, has been working closely with Macedonian Maj. Irena Mineva and people from the U.S. Embassy in Skopje to organize the event.

People at the U.S. Embassy actually had a list of things they wanted to do, and a cleanup was one of their suggestions. However, a lot of areas had already been cleaned up for the recent Macedonian parliamentary elections.

"We met with the mayor out there and talked to him before we confirmed anything. We all agreed that would be a good location," Captain Schmidt said.

Getting out and giving something back to the community felt good to Captain Schmidt.

"The Macedonians have been nothing but gracious hosts to us every time we've come here for a planning conference for this exercise," he said. "It was nice to give something back."

The U.S. Embassy set up the police who directed traffic. The mayor arranged for the gardening tools and the men who drove the vehicles picking up bags of trash and yard debris placed along the side of the road by MEDCEUR participants.

U.S. Army Spc. Robert Sherry, 3rd Air Force Theater Patient Movement Requirements Center-Europe patient movement coordinator, enjoyed learning how to use the sickle and pitchfork.

"I enjoyed learning the art of cutting the grass with the sickle," he said. "I don't think any of us did it right after watching the Macedonians do it, but we tried."

Captain Schmidt believes all the hard work left a good impression with the people of Negotino.

"The Macedonians that were there seemed very happy to have us there," he said.

The Chief Inspector for Environmental Affairs for the Municipality of Negotino Branko Veljanov was actually out helping to cut the grass back. He also took the opportunity to thank the U.S. service members for coming out and tackling this project and welcoming them to the area.

"I want to give you a big thank you for coming out and helping us clean out this area," Mr. Veljanov said.

It wasn't hard getting people motivated to go out and assist with this project, but the training schedule did need to be deconflicted.

"Most people in the military are very willing to volunteer to do things like that," the captain said.

The U.S. service members boarded the buses back to the Macedonian camp hosting MEDCEUR 11 with the environmental affairs chief's warm invitation to come back and enjoy the wine and the scenery in Negotino and Macedonia.