CE beats the heat
By Captain Becky King, 176th Wing Executive Officer
/ Published April 14, 2008
NEGEV DESERT, Israel -- "Coffee! Coffee!" Penny yells as he starts to boil water on a Sterno stove in the driver's
cab of a front-end loader. A few minutes later the brew is done and the familiar call
of "Coffee-Coffee"" brings American troops and Israeli contractors over for a much-needed break.
Led by deployed commander Maj. Ed Soto, the Alaska Air National Guard airmen were getting the unusual opportunity to spend their two weeks of annual training on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) base in Israel's Negev Desert. The 50 members of the Anchorage-based 176th Civil Engineer Squadron were quick to volunteer for the coveted rotation, during
which they hoped to complete several exercise-related construction projects.
"The unique thing about this deployment is that we have five different projects going simultaneously," said Capt. Stephanie Kerrigan, project officer for the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron. "With so many different projects, almost every person has, at some
level, been able to do work specific to his or her area of expertise. It's great for skill-set training.
"It's also great training for managers because of the complexity of the projects and limiting factors," she added. "We're learning how to respond and react in a dynamic environment while still getting the job done."
Working with limited equipment, supplies, communications, and transportation
resources added to the project's complexity, simulating conditions of a war-time environment. Encountering incompatible materials and supplies forced the engineers to improvise.
"This is a way for both groups to work together and work with a lot of different equipment and materials," said Meier Gur, project liaison for the Israeli Air Forces, who has been with the project since its inception and hopes it continues far into the future. "It's a great benefit for both [Israeli and American troops]," he noted.
In addition to working on U.S.-specific construction projects, the training gave the Guard members the chance to work in a joint environment. Several 176 CES electrical and power production craftsmen, for example, provided exothermic welding training to Israeli airmen. This unique form of welding is critical to some of the IAF's newest projects.
By week's end, the new technology had been adopted by the IAF for specific construction applications. Thanks to this exchange, the newly-trained Israeli airmen can now meet the same construction standards used by their U.S. counterparts.
Additionally, one of the IAF's highly visible runway construction projects had recently fallen behind. Since they were ahead of schedule on most projects, the Alaska Air Guard members were able to assist an Israeli crew. In just seven days, the Israeli-American crew laid more than 19 miles of communications conduit. This effort put the runway project back on schedule and had no affect on the U.S.- specific projects, which the Guard still finished ahead of schedule.
Gur said this is one of the reasons he enjoys working with Guard members.
"They work more seriously than most of the people I know. You give them a mission and they'll do it; they're very good people," he said.
This mission focus is what brought the Guard to this project in the first place. In 1996, when the exercise-related construction requirements were first identified, U.S. Air Forces in Europe tasked the Guard's 235th Civil Engineer Flight to do the design work. Recognizing the unique training opportunities at the site, the Guard readily agreed to provide labor as well.
The results of these initial decisions speak for themselves. The designs have been highly praised and are, in some cases, considered to be the authority in work in Israel. And the labor opportunities seem unparalleled.
Kerrigan explained the reasons: "The fact that the Guard continues to come back year after year shows that this has been the most successful deployment for our training program. We hope every unit gets this opportunity."
Who knows which unit will be here next year? For now, though, the Alaska Guardsmen will enjoy their accomplishments, teamwork and cultural exchanges. Perhaps they'll reflect on these experiences over a nice cup of coffee.