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From Poland to US to Belize: Engineer travels globe

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Piotr Wilk, New Horizons project manager at the Stella Maris School Belize Academy for the Deaf construction site, left, speaks with a member of the Belize Defence Force assisting with construction at the site April 23, 2014, in Belize City, Belize. BDF and U.S. service members are working together to build five school buildings and one medical facility throughout Belize during New Horizons Belize 2014. New Horizons is an annual event coordinated between the U.S. and the host nation to provide mutual training opportunities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Piotr Wilk, New Horizons project manager at the Stella Maris School Belize Academy for the Deaf construction site, left, speaks with a member of the Belize Defence Force assisting with construction at the site April 23, 2014, in Belize City, Belize. BDF and U.S. service members are working together to build five school buildings and one medical facility throughout Belize during New Horizons Belize 2014. New Horizons is an annual event coordinated between the U.S. and the host nation to provide mutual training opportunities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar/Released)

BELIZE CITY, Belize -- Starting at a young age, a strong work ethic was instilled in Piotr Wilk. Born in Poland, he moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, at 6 years old. For the 13 years before he joined the U.S. Air Force, he worked construction with his father.

"A strong work ethic - that's been driven into me quite a few times by the old man," said Wilk of laboring alongside his father. "It was a lot of manual labor, and I learned a lot of lessons in those few years, particularly, that it could always be worse."

Self-described as "Cutthroat. Quick to it. Definitely not reserved. Passionate. Strong," Wilk said. "That's the way I was brought up - to be hard-working."

As a technical sergeant in the service, Wilk has applied that ethic to his current position as the project manager at the Stella Maris School Belize Academy for the Deaf, where he and a team of multi-service engineers are nearing completion on building additions for the school as part of New Horizons Belize 2014.

New Horizons is a multifaceted exercise that incorporates mutual training opportunities for Belize Defence Force, Canadian and U.S. military members in the engineering and medical fields.

Wilk, deployed from the 820th REDHORSE Squadron of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, is experiencing being a project manager with the squadron for the first time. Though it may be his first go in the leadership position, he certainly didn't start off slow in Belize. The construction site is approximately three weeks ahead of schedule and is set to be complete no later than June 6.

His favorite part of it all? Interacting with the kids at the school, he said.

"It's cool hanging out with them. They're always happy. They're always smiling," he said.

At the start of the construction, he may have been a novice project manager; however, he was certainly not new to humanitarian or deployment operations. After 10 years in the Air Force, Wilk has been all over the world. He has previously deployed to Afghanistan twice, Iraq twice and Southwest Asia, and he has also supported clean-up in the wakes of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the U.S.

Wherever he is or has been in the world, though, Wilk always tries to make time to visit his Polish roots.

"I was born in Poland. I lived in southern Poland, about an hour from the border. I've been back about four times in the last 15 years to see my family, to see my grandma," he said. "I also went back with my wife, and she was in for a shock.

"A lot of places don't have air conditioning, and it felt like it was the hottest summer in the last century," he laughed.

The couple revisited Wilk's roots, and traveled Europe - Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. And when they return to New York, where his parents and two brothers called home, his family in the states is always pleased.

"They're always happy when I come back," he said. "My family got real comfortable with me being closer when I was stationed at (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New York)"

Wherever life takes him, he'll visit both his family in New York and Poland, he said.

In the meantime, he added, "I'll go wherever 'The HORSE' takes me."


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