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Pentagon Renovations Progressing With Help of Salvadorans

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2004 – Pentagon renovations are not only humming along, they're also humming along on schedule, according to a foreman on the project.

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Carlo Cruz, originally from Union, El Salvador, makes doing his job on stilts look easy, though Hensel Phelps Construction officials said stilt-walking takes special skills. Cruz, along with other Salvadorans on work permits, are employed by Hensel Phelps Construction on the Pentagon renovation project.
  

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Ricardo Velasquez, a foreman with Hensel Phelps Construction, has been working on the Pentagon reconstruction since just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

"I feel proud to work on the Pentagon," said Velasquez, who has been with Hensel Phelps for nine years. "I never thought in my mind I'd work on the Pentagon, but here I am."

From Chalatenango, El Salvador, Velasquez followed his parents to the United States and has been in the country for 20 years. He holds a work permit, and he is working toward citizenship.

The ties between El Salvador and the United States have been knitted a little closer in recent years. Velasquez's home country is the only Central American country that still has troops supporting the efforts in Iraq.

The 380 Salvadoran troops have proven their dedication and bravery working with Iraqis on shrine patrols in the thick of it all in Najaf. Six Salvadoran servicemembers were involved in hand-to-hand combat in Iraq and saved the lives of U.S. soldiers, said Rogelio Pardo-Maurer IV, deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

As a way of expressing the United States' gratitude to El Salvador for its support during the war, the Department of Defense has invited Salvadoran Defense Minister Gen. Otto Alejandro Romero to visit the Pentagon on Sept. 30. There he will meet with Velasquez and several of the other Salvadorans working on the Pentagon renovation project. He also will tour the construction area.

Romero's visit is symbolic, said Pardo-Maurer. "His countrymen are literally part of the fabric of rebuilding the Pentagon, and we appreciate that," Pardo- Maurer said.

While viewing the construction site, Romero will see the work being done on Wedge 2, which is in the third and final phase, to be completed in 2005. Wedge 1 is complete, and with each sequential completion, occupants displaced from the next wedge to be worked on will move to the recently completed wedge. Those originally displaced from Wedge 1 will remain in swing space away from the Pentagon reservation and will be the last to move back to the building in 2010 when the project is set to be complete, four years ahead of the original schedule.

The work to be done on Wedges 2-5 will renovate more than 4 million square feet of space in the world's largest low-rise office building. Along with updating the building's appearance, the renovation will bring the building into compliance with modern building, life safety, accessibility and fire codes. It will also ensure that all hazardous materials have been removed.

The renovation also will allow for upgraded building systems, security and telecommunications equipment, and more elevators and escalators. And, of course, after the Sept. 11 attacks, security measures are even part of the physical construction.

So when Romero visits the Pentagon, he'll get the grand tour and be warmly greeted not only by appreciative U.S. officials, but also by his fellow countrymen.

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Related Sites:
Pentagon Renovation and Construction
State Department Background Notes on El Salvador

Click photo for screen-resolution imageRicardo Velasquez, right, helps Ramone Zamora attach a conduit through which cables will run, to a wall in the Pentagon's Wedge 2. Velasquez is originally from Chalatanengo, El Salvador, and Zamora is from San Miguel, El Salvador. The workers are employed by Hensel Phelps Construction on the Pentagon renovation project.  
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