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Eight years serving, best experience ever

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Nathaniel Kiger and Staff Sgt. Conrad Marine, both with the 139th Civil Engineer Squadron, Missouri Air National Guard, spread grass seed during the reconstruction of the Naujenu Orphanage near Daugavpils, Latvia, July 20, 2015.  The 139th CE was participating in the Humanitarian Civic Assistance project through the United States European Command, that pairs units training requirements with humanitarian needs.   (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Nathaniel Kiger and Staff Sgt. Conrad Marine, both with the 139th Civil Engineer Squadron, Missouri Air National Guard, spread grass seed during the reconstruction of the Naujenu Orphanage near Daugavpils, Latvia, July 20, 2015. The 139th CE was participating in the Humanitarian Civic Assistance project through the United States European Command, that pairs units training requirements with humanitarian needs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Patrick P. Evenson/Released)

DAUGAVPILS, Latvia -- I am so grateful a humanitarian mission was my first deployment experience. You truly do not understand till you are sharing your time with an orphan, what the mission really reaps. Yes, I completed some upgrade training to hone my skills of welding, grinding, painting; but the joy on the children's faces meant the most.

They would greet us every morning on the job site, wait for our lunch break to challenges us in soccer or volleyball, and send us off every evening with hugs, smiles and laughs. While we worked hard, we also played hard -- yet the kids would still beat us barefoot and fast while we straggled behind in our steel toed boots.

I love being here with these small spirited children, to think this is their only home they know and I helped make it a better place is the greatest reward. Actually reconstructing a living space for two small-group homes, while working with the Latvian Army Land Forces and the local community contractors, displays the best part of being in the military.

I will cherish these memories of what we can accomplish with teamwork, the children's smiling faces when they received their gifts of new clothes, and the excitement of our installation a new soccer net. We came to reconstruct a building; we left with full hearts knowing we gave exactly what these children needed: our time and our love

About the author: Staff Sgt. Conrad Marin is assigned to the 139th Civil Engineer Squadron, Missouri Air National Guard.