176th Civil Engineer Squadron completes island training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- After two weeks of rigorous training, members of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Civil Engineer Squadron returned home March 25 from San Clemente Island, a remote island off the coast of southern California.

San Clemente Island is home to several U.S. Navy units, including the Naval Special Warfare Group One Maritime Operations, or MAROPS, which hosted the Alaska guard members.

One of MAROPS's missions is to provide military training activities. While deployed, the Alaska guard members worked on a wide array of facilities and other construction projects designed to improve the training that MAROPS is able to then provide to America's special-operations soldiers, sailors and Marines.

"The trip is advantageous for both units," said Maj. Kimberly Riggs, one of the two civil engineers in the squadron. "MAROPS gets free labor and we get training. Two weeks of solid work is exhausting, but you really get to pack a lot in."

Among their many projects, the visiting Alaska guard members:

* revamped a shooting range, to include grading and expanding the firing lanes, building a perimeter wall, and extending the roof;

* formed and layed concrete slabs and steps at a mock desert village used to special forces;

* upgraded electrical infrastructure, to include installing lights in multiple buildings and replacing a circuit breaker box;

* installed a new air compressor for the MAROPS mechanic's shop; and

* repaired drywall in several facilities.

The deployment -- called a Deployment for Training, or DFT -- was made possible by an Air National Guard-funded program. These missions, according to Air National Guard guidance, enable Air Guard civil engineer units to get necessary training not usually available at home station, while at the same time meeting real-world construction, repair and upgrade needs.

The program draws on the expertise and capability of the Air National Guard when the host unit doesn't have the skills or resources, said John Johnston, the officer in charge of the MAROPS facility. He said the MAROPS island-based staff was extremely pleased with the work and highly appreciative.

By using Air National Guard members instead of contracting out work on the remote island, the program saves the United States Navy money, Johnston said. Additionally, the work completed by guardsmen frees the host unit to concentrate on other projects, he noted.

"It saves me countless man hours and money," he said.

In return, the Alaska guard members received great training opportunities, said Master Sgt. Chad Jennings, supervisor of the squadron's Heating, Ventalation, and Air Conditioning Section. "It's good for upgrade training and career progression, and they have fun doing it," he said.

It was the first training deployment for some of the squadron's newer troops.

Senior Airman John Buso, a junior member of the squadron' Electrical Section, described the trip as a great training experience. He said the hands-on training he received working on circuit breakers, for example, significantly added to the basic understanding he previously possessed.

Taking advantage of San Clemente's existing training facilities, the squadron also completed needed weapons training while on the island. They brought along Staff Sgt. Leonard Reloza, a combat arms instructor with the 176th Security Forces Squadron -- like the civil engineer squadron, a component of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing -- to conduct the training. Ninety-nine percent of the group qualified on required weapons training, according to Senior Master Sgt. Keith Wilson, the operations superintendent for the mission.

Deploying as a unit does more than save money and accomplish needed training, said Riggs -- doing so also increases unit cohesion.

"Teamwork is going to be really important when the unit deploys [overseas]," she said. "It's important anywhere, but when you work better as a team you're more effective all around."
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