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Air Guard civil engineers benefit from improvements

by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
National Guard Bureau

4/27/2010 - PHOENIX (AFNS) -- Frequent mobilizations are still challenging the Air National Guard's civil engineers, but the planning, training and support for them has improved dramatically, Guard officials said April 26 here.

About 400 Air Guard civil engineers joined with security forces Airmen at a conference here to discuss their challenges and issues in overseas contingency operations and in their installation support missions.

"This gives them an opportunity to get the right answers," said Master Sgt. Jim Allen, an Air Guard deployment manager. "You have people who just started in their positions and you have people in this room who have been in for 20 years. The objective here is to get them talking together. It allows us to network, bring expertise and train those people."

Civil engineers now receive a one-year notice before they get "boots on the ground" for six months.

"One of the big things as far as getting more Airmen acceptable of deploying is the mobilization portion," Sergeant Allen said.

During this time the engineers are able to notify employers and families and make arrangements for health care and family care.

"We as the planners have to do a lot more now as far as getting them all of their benefits," Sergeant Allen said.

There are 71 Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force squadrons in the Air Guard that make up 20 percent of the engineering force in the fight right now, Guard officials said.

In September 2006 40 Airmen from the New York Air Guard's 139th Prime Beef Squadron and 27 from a unit in Syracuse, N.Y. deployed to Iraq in what was a glimpse then of the near-standard deployment for Prime BEEF today.

Deploying as a home unit that trains together and fights together, like the 139th Prime BEEF is the standard they wanted and fought for, said Lt. Col. Rich Edwards, who deployed as the commander of the 139th Prime BEEF.

"You have adversity and time together," he said. "When we came back, our unit was closer; we built up a lot of strong bonds."

And while civil engineers are managing mobilizations together, it's still a struggle for their installations to plan for their absence.

The Air Guard's Prime BEEF squadron members are charged with the facility management on their home bases.

"It's hard," said Bill Albro, the Air Guard's director of installations and mission support.

Squadrons have always been required to have plans in place to operate if their Prime BEEF is deployed for war, he said.

Colonel Edwards said wing commanders must allow them to mobilize and should plan for their absence.

Base support comes through working with the state's federal asset managers, other in-state or out-of -state squadrons and even with the state police.

Installations also forgo construction projects until a unit's return, which makes good sense, Mr. Albro said.

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