June 2, 2010

Virginia Air Guard’s 203d RED HORSE helps with construction project on Arizona Navajo Reservation

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Airmen from the Virginia Beach-based 203d RED HORSE Squadron kicked off a special civil engineering project May 18 for renovation and construction work at St. Michaels Association for Special Education in Window Rock, Ariz. The 36 Airmen spent their two-week annual training period working on the project and returned to Virginia May 29.  

 

Staff Sgt. Charles Dodge, 203rd Red Horse Squadron, Virginia Beach, Va., clears area for new construction with a John Deere 650J Bulldozer at the St. Michaels Association for Special Education campus in Window Rock, Ariz., May 19. Work is being conducted at the SMASE campus as part of the Innovative Readiness Training, a civil-military affairs program linking military units with civilian communities for humanitarian projects. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Bynum)

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“When you work on a project like this, you enjoy doing it because of why you are doing it and who you are doing it for,” said Lt. Col. Peter Garner, commander of the 203d RED HORSE. The project is part of the National Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training program, a civil-military affairs program linking military units with civilian communities for humanitarian projects.

The SMASE campus serves as a school and home for approximately 80 Navajo children and young adults with severe debilitating conditions. This school is the only certified special education school on the Navajo Reservation and is continuing to drawing students from the four corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

The groundbreaking ceremony conducted May 18 featured the unveiling of a Virginia flag that represented the move from the design phase of the project to the actual construction, Garner said. Civil engineers from the Colorado Guard spent months developing the project plans, and Virginia Guard engineers are the first of five different teams that will work on the project over the next 12 weeks.

 

Staff Sgt. Jack Peed, 203rd RED HORSE Squadron, Virginia Beach, Va., installs an external power box May 18, 2010, at St. Michaels Association for Special Education campus in Window Rock, Ariz. Work is being conducted at the SMASE campus as part of the Innovative Readiness Training, a civil-military affairs program linking military units with civilian communities for humanitarian projects. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Bynum)

Click HERE to see more photos from the project.

Garner said the groundbreaking ceremony was a touching and emotional event that featured several speakers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and also included a parent of a student who spoke about the importance of the school in their child’s life. The ceremony also featured remarks from a former Navajo code talker.

For the Airmen of the 203d, the project started with a four-day, 2,200-mile convoy from Virginia to Arizona to get important engineer equipment and tools on site. The other equipment needed for the project was rented locally.

According Maj. Jeffrey E. Getz, officer in charge of the project, work was completed on the demolition of a condemned dining facility and most of the debris was sorted and removed from the site. The Airmen also met their goal for the excavation, site grading and pouring foundation for a new nurse’s station for the school.

In addition to the work on the nurse’s station, Airmen from the 203d upgraded wiring in existing facilities that in some cases was more than 30 years old, put new shingles on existing buildings, relocated three sheds from nurse’s station site to other sites on campus, graded approximately two miles of roadway and cleared and graded around eight culverts.

 

Airman First Class Avian Jones, 203rd RED HORSE Squadron, Virginia Beach, Va., digs a trench for a power conduit May 18, 2010, at St. Michaels Association for Special Education campus in Window Rock, Ariz. Work is being conducted at the SMASE campus as part of the Innovative Readiness Training, a civil-military affairs program linking military units with civilian communities for humanitarian projects. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Bynum)

Click HERE to see more photos from the project.

The IRT program leverages hands on proficiency training to benefit both the Air Guard and the community.  The Air Guard receives much needed on-the-job training which ensures they are ready to perform when called upon for local or overseas missions.  This arrangement involves support from the Air Guard IRT teams who provide design support, labor, and equipment while SMASE provides the materials for the infrastructure projects.

“Our engineers get great hands on training in all the different career fields, and we get training on our war-time tasks of construction projects,” Garner said. “Electricians are pulling wire and redoing electrical boxes, plumbers are reworking plumbing lines and sewer lines, structures troops are renovating buildings and constructing concrete walls and footers, and equipment operators are getting much needed stick time on heavy equipment.”

“The best IRT marriage is when it satisfies several different mission essential task lists training requirements and has the secondary benefit to large impact to the community that we serve in that’s the perfect marriage for an IRT marriage,” said Master Sgt. Charles Stoyer, IRT Project Coordinator, ANG Readiness Center. “When I took a look at this project at St. Michaels, I said this was a no brainer, this is a perfect fit for our long term training venue for our Air Guard civil engineers.”

The SMASE project came to fruition after they contacted the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau requesting assistance through the IRT program. Overall the project comprises of a five year plan which included renovation projects on the campus, the construction of a new nurse’s station, additional class rooms, an adult recreation center, a community center, as well as a transportation building for their school buses.  These projects would not be able to be completed without the help of the Air Guard IRT teams.

“We are helping people that truly can’t help themselves in an area that has a depressed economy we are stimulating the local economy just by our presence here and also helping the customer, everything we do here will certainly touch and improve their quality of life,” said Stoyer.

The IRT mission at SMASE will help the campus continue to play a vital role in the Navajo community.  Without this educational campus and the special care it provides, many special need children and young adults of the Navajo Nation would not receive the education and treatment they require.

“By maintaining special education best practices and keeping a family and Navajo centered environment, St. Michaels provides a home close to home for handicapped children and adults on the reservation who otherwise would have to trek to Phoenix to get the level of education, therapy, and medical care needed,” concluded Gillis Chapela, director of SMASE.

Additional reporting by by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Bynum, National Guard Bureau

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