WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – A humanitarian mission in the Southwest gives the 184th Civil Engineering Squadron some very rewarding hands-on-training.
The sound of hammers pounding, heavy equipment moving dirt, duct work being placed and pipe wrenches on plumbing fixtures are common noises for a construction site. For 34 airmen of the 184th Intelligence Wing, Civil Engineering Squadron, these sounds are music to their ears, because it means hands-on training.
“It is the only way that we learn our job,” said Staff Sgt. Brett Shouse, heavy equipment operator. “It gives us relevant experience. So much of our training is computer-based and the hands-on stuff is the only way to learn construction type jobs.”
On June 15-29, the 184th CES deployed to Gallup, N.M., and Window Rock, Ariz., for their two-week annual training. But this training was a little different than what the squadron is used to.
“When I first found out that it was humanitarian work,” said Senior Airman Justin Hoppe, utilities technician, “I thought that it was a great way to come here and show support and do the work that they need help with.”
The 184th CES worked with the Southwest Indian Foundation as three separate teams, at three sites, building homes, remodeling buildings and trenching new sewer and water systems. Every project directly impacted and improved the living conditions of local Native Americans.
“We get to use our expertise and skills to improve the quality of life for these people,” said Staff Sgt. John Gee, heating and cooling systems technician.
The Southwest Indian Foundation is a small organization that has a big mission. The partnership with the military is extremely important in order to get as much accomplished as they can each year.
“We have been doing this for 15 years and we have built right around 220 homes during that time,” said Jeremy Boucher, deputy director of Southwest Indian Foundation. “When the military comes during the summer, they provide crucial manpower for us.”
Building new homes at the Southwest Indian Foundation warehouse for qualified applicants was only one worksite where the team worked. Saint Michael’s Association for Special Education was where Airmen spent the majority of the time remodeling and improving three existing buildings.
“We have redesigned an HVAC system for a house that didn’t have a heating and cooling system,” said Gee. “They were using a potbelly stove to heat the home during the winter and they had nothing for the summer time.”
In addition to installing a new HVAC system, windows were replaced, doors relocated, complete plumbing systems removed and replaced, and new electrical wires and panels installed.
While most of the engineers worked on building or remodeling homes, a small crew of four travelled to three homes installing water and sewer lines. Some of these homes had gone years without water and sewer.
“What surprises me is this is 2013 and a lot of the people don’t even have running water,” said Shouse. “This house has been here since 2004 without running water. We are here to put in water and septic systems for the families that need it.”
The trenching crew put in three septic systems, 265 linear feet of waterlines and 315 linear feet of infiltration systems, all while getting valuable real-world training with real-world dilemmas.
“Every situation is different you know, we hit rock on this project six inches down,” continues Shouse. “We have to do something, so you get a jackhammer or dig it out by hand. You can’t plan for that in a textbook, there is only one way and that is getting dirty out in the field.”
The annual training was a great opportunity for all career fields to get hands-on training for their specific trades. The 184th CE squadron spent approximately 3,500 hours helping a community that welcomed them with open arms.
“We are actually working in the community and they understand why we are here and that we are here to help them,” said Maj. John Adam, emergency management flight officer.
“It’s heartwarming you are actually helping someone that needs this,” said Airman 1st Class Kathryn Smith, structures technician.