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Civil engineer units have different missions, same goal

by Senior Airman Chawntain Sloan
Multinational Corps-Iraq Public Affairs

9/16/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- It is 110 degrees and temperatures are steadily on the rise. Luckily, the office is air conditioned -- until the power goes out.

An Airman puts in a work order, but it is not the only office that is suffering from this side effect of the heat. However, within 15 minutes, an ice-cold breeze of relief surrounds the office just as a civil engineer pokes his head in to say the malfunction has been fixed.

Providing relief from the heat is just one of the many things Army and Air Force civil engineers here are doing to make life more bearable for deployed servicemembers, Department of Defense civilians and contract employees.

Two units providing that relief are the 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron and the 732nd ECES Detachment 6 with Logistics Support Area Anaconda. The 332nd ECES and LSA Anaconda are both located here.

Master Sgt. Brian Davis and his 332nd ECES structures shop crew spend their 12-hour days enduring hot and austere conditions to establish, repair and maintain Air Force facilities.

“Our job doesn’t allow us to be in the shade or air conditioning,” said Sergeant Davis who is the structures shop superintendent. “We are fixing the outside of buildings, putting up tents or scraping paint off the hot asphalt (runway) or concrete (flightline).”

From the moment they arrived here, Sergeant Davis said his crew had enough back-logged job orders on the books to keep them busy the entire rotation.

“The first two months, the crew worked nonstop without a day off,” he said. “The motivation, drive and determination they have to get the job and mission done just amazed me. Sometimes, I thought that they were killing themselves, but it wasn’t because I was asking them to; it’s just because they knew the jobs needed to get done.”

That motivation, drive and determination paid off. By the end of their first two months, Sergeant Davis’ crew had completed more than 370 job orders, and they are still going strong.

“We will probably have 500 jobs done by the end of our rotation. That’s our goal,” Sergeant Davis said.

While he and his crew keep busy during the day, Master Sgt. Robert Hager and the Airmen assigned to the 732nd ECES Det 6 vertical shop work the night shift at LSA Anaconda.

Sergeant Hager, the vertical shop’s superintendent, said his team’s mission is slightly different.

“We’re here to support the (Soldiers) and make their lives more comfortable by getting them out of tents and into hardened shelters,” Sergeant Hager said.

Upon their arrival in theater, Sergeant Hager and his crew immediately went to work. They were tasked with building 30 new hardstand living facilities, and even though they are only responsible for the framing, Sergeant Hager said he knew immediately they had to call in reinforcements if they were going to finish the 3,000-square-foot structures by the October deadline.

“There is no way just 10 of us could take on that project ourselves and get it done in that timeframe, which is why we brought in the (507th Engineer Battalion),” he said. “Like anything else, when you bring different people from different bases and backgrounds together, it’s a bit of a rough start, but we have a real good team.”

Despite the time-consuming project, Sergeant Hager and his Airmen have not limited themselves to just making life better for Soldiers in the immediate area.

“We are tasked to go outside the wire with the Army on convoys, and we also provide (engineering) support to other forward-operating bases,” Sergeant Hager said.

Even though they are supporting different missions, both civil engineer units here are busy learning what it means to establish operations from the ground up.

“Manual labor is up 200 percent,” Sergeant Davis said. “At the home station, our job is to maintain and repair a lot of minor stuff. Here, we have done a lot of building -- from storage shelters (for aircraft) to temper tents and tent floors. You name it; if it involves any sort of building or structure, we’re doing it.”

“It’s good training for the younger troops,” Sergeant Hager said. “They get to build instead of fix things. They don’t get many opportunities like this at home station.”

According to Airmen on both teams, part of that training has been adjusting to and overcoming a variety of complications they are not exposed to at home.

“Mortar attacks are just another part of the job,” said Senior Airman Luke Lucas, a 332nd ECES structures journeyman. “Sometimes, you will be driving to a job and see a mortar hit the gravel a few feet away from you. After awhile, you just get used to it. As long as no one is hurt, you can’t let it affect you. You have to get the mission done.”

Aside from acclimating to a new environment, the Airmen said they have also had to learn to do more with less.

“Sometimes, supplies aren’t in the best condition,” said Senior Airman Curtis Nyseth, a 732nd ECES vertical journeyman. “Because of the heat, a lot of the wood is warped, but we sand it down and make it work.”

At the rate both units are going, Sergeants Davis and Hager agree their immediate goals are more than achievable, but the main goal extends well beyond finishing a certain number of jobs.

“As long as we can leave things a little better than we found them, then we’ve done our job,” Sergeant Hager said.

“Our mentality is don’t just do it for the here and now, do it for the future,” Sergeant Davis said. “This team is definitely making it better for the future.”

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