RINAS, Albania -- Today, I, along with 12 other Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), was blessed with an opportunity to visit a local elementary school in Rinas, Albania. The Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU (SOC) are in Albania for a two-week bilateral training exercise with the Albanian military forces. This is my first time in this beautiful country.
After a large assembly for the more than 200 students of Babë Rexha Elementary School in which myself and the other Marines and Sailors spoke to the kids about our hometowns in the United States, the children, ranging in ages from 6 to 14 years old, took me and other service members to their individual classrooms.
Although the rooms were small and could barely hold fifteen children, the children were very proud of their school. The walls were bare and needed work, but the kids still showed it off with a big smile much how a king might boast of his castle. The desks were very old and made of wood. Neatly tucked under each desk was a bench that could seat four or five small children. It was wonderful to look at the artwork that they eagerly shared with me.
After my brief tour of the school, we reemerged outside to find many of the children laughing and smiling, as they played volleyball and soccer with the other Marines and Sailors. My small, but growing, group of kids who shared their school with me then sang songs to one another and played 'patty cake.' The kids then formed a line and I went though an entire song with each little girl and several of the boys. In turn, they gave me flowers and hugs.
Though small and very much in need of money, the school was definitely a place where the children were learning. I found it very enlightening in that we, as Americans, have come to expect nice schools, big playgrounds and the best programs that our limited school budgets in the United States can provide. Here in Albania, however, these children expected nothing and were very thankful for everything they had.
I believe that all of the Marines and Sailors who volunteered for this visit can walk away with a better appreciation for what we have in the United States. My time with these children was one of many wonderful experiences I have had while deployed with the 26th MEU (SOC). As a Marine and a mother, this experience will be one that I will keep close to my heart forever.
Sgt. Mindy L. Noll is the Comptroller for the 26th MEU (SOC) Command Element and is from Newark, Delaware.