Civil engineers use innovative training to take care of business, people

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Julie Briden-Garcia
  • 301st Fighter Wing
Construction work on many military bases is done completely by contractors whereas other bases have been greatly limited in their upgrade and proficiency training options specifically with the Civil Engineer Squadrons. 

Founded specifically for training, Innovative Readiness Training, or IRT, is utilized where civil engineer units don't have control over normal CE career functions on their home base. At a base where A-76* functions have taken over many of CE's base responsibilities, it's the contractors, not CE, who have control over the equipment, buildings and maintenance. 

"This leaves CE in the dark as far as training," said Chief Phillip Watkins, Helemano Plantation Air Force Reserve Command project manager who originally hails from the 908th Airlift Wing, CES, at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Ala. "The only true wartime skills training [the CE career field] has is at Silver Flag conducted on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; the Training Combat Center (TCC) at Dobbins AFB, Ga., or on annual tour where they can practice their jobs." 

An IRT is a civil-military partnership through which Reservists receive valuable training while leaving something of value behind for communities throughout the United States. Reserve civil engineers have been involved in IRT projects for the past 11 years. In 2005 alone, more than 400 Reservists participated in IRT projects, racking up more than 60,000 training hours. 

Utilizing IRT projects gives CE troops an opportunity to give back to the community while maintaining and upgrading necessary training requirements. There have been a number of IRTs conducted within the past year: San Pasqual Indian reservation, San Diego, Calif., - roadway system and bldg.; Washoe Indian reservation, Gardener Ville Nev., - community center and housing; Operation Footprint, Gallop, N.M., - modular homes; Montana Crow Indian reservation - road project; and The Opportunity for Retarded Inc. (ORI)-Anuenue Hale, Inc., at the Helemano Plantation, Oahu, Hi., - building cabins, houses, and a Wellness Center slated for Fiscal Year 2008. 

The 301st Civil Engineers, from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Carswell Field, Fort Worth, Texas, participated in the IRT at the Helemano Plantation for the second time this year. A 36-member team participated in a two-week deployment to the site just south of North Shore on Oahu, Hawaii. This phase of the project required many aspects of a civil engineer's career field. Some of the work required was concrete foundation construction; framing; commercial/residential electrical work; entomology; supply; and surveying. The work continues, in the coming months, with a team required to install an HVAC air conditioning system in the ORI-Anuenue Hale, Inc.'s Wellness Center. 

"Our civil engineer squadron received outstanding skills training while constructing a community facility for special needs and elderly Hawaiians," said Col. Vince Wilcox, 301st Fighter Wing vice commander and former 301st CE operations commander.
"I've never been on a work site where every CE career field can develop and hone their Air Force Specialty Code skills. Furthermore, the product of our labors will greatly benefit those in need in the local community. 

Getting support for an IRT project isn't a simple process but when Mrs. Susanna Cheung, president and chief executive officer of the ORI-Anuenue Hale, Inc., started looking for help, she went straight for the Air Force Reserve Command. "We went out and put the word out," said Chief Watkins, "if it's within our guidelines -- all labor, per diem and food costs are paid by AFRC -- the nonprofit will cover the material costs. Our people get training and [the ORI-Anuenue Hale, Inc.] gets something for their efforts. 

ORI-Anuenue Hale, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing relief to and promoting the general welfare of elderly, disadvantaged and disabled people in the rural and geographically isolated Central and North Shore areas of Oahu. ORI-Anuenue Hale, Inc. and its sister organization, the ORI, have been lending a helping hand to some of Hawaii's neediest citizens since 1980. 

Chief Watkins expressed that AFRC has a lot of IRT applicants to pick from. "It's what ever fits our training needs! Here we have a need for vertical and horizontal structures as well as civil, mechanical, electrical and structural engineering. All disciplines are used here." 

During last month, the Air Force and Army team, totaling 133 members who worked twelve-hours days, side by side, was the largest team assembled to date. The team consisted of people from the Air National Guard from 132nd CES, Iowa, 114th CES, South Dakota, Army Guard from 230th CES, Honolulu, Hawaii and from AFRC, was the 301st CES. 

The training they received was invaluable commented Chief Watkins. "Between the 15 people in one, three and five-level upgrade training, they received 939 training hours. That's more than 62 hours per person in a two-week period." To achieve the abundance of training these members gained against their CE AFSC would, under normal UTA conditions, take an Airman at least a year to acquire. 

This tour wasn't all work and no play said Col. Wilcox. "The opportunities for off-duty activities and entertainment are essentially limitless in Hawaii. Our civil engineers live by the motto 'work hard, play hard.'" 

During this tour in Hawaii, Reservists experienced a dust storm, effects from Hurricane Flossie, and a wild fire that consumed more than 5000 acres of land just across the highway from the plantation. 

This latest IRT tour adds to a growing list of IRT projects the 301st CES has participated in. Some of the others include Camp Barrow in Nome, Alaska; Gallop, New Mexico, and most recently was Romania in the summer of 2003. 

"Comparing today with ten years ago, when I was 301st CES operations officer," commented Col. Wilcox, " I am amazed at how the young Airmen and junior NCOs that I worked with then have gained experience and expertise, advanced, and are now stellar senior NCOs and unit leaders. Not only do their leadership skills shine bright, but they are also passing on their craftsmen skills and know-how to today's junior unit members so they will sustain this deservedly proud and exceeding competent and capable Prime BEEF team." (Facts from articles written by Master Sgt. Jason Tudor and Bo Joyner are contained in this article.)

(*A-76 was a study that compared outsourcing work [contractor] verses performing the work in-house [military] to determine who can perform the work in a manner that enhances quality, economy and productivity.
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