Civil engineer Reservists train while building homes

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By Sandra Pishner, 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs / Published May 13, 2014

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) --

Reservists do more than execute the Air Force mission to fly, fight, and win. They also receive value-based training while assisting underserved communities. Such is the case with the 446th Civil Engineer Squadron, which is sending roughly 21 people to Gallup, New Mexico, May 10-24.

Participating in Operation Footprint, operated by the Southwest Indian Foundation, or SWIF, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Reservists will assist in constructing homes to serve the Navaho Nation.

The focus of Operation Footprint is to tackle the extreme need for affordable housing within the Navajo Nation. The nation has an average per capita income of $6,217, with 56 percent of the population living below the poverty level. Unemployment averages 43 percent, and there is a housing shortage of about 22,000 homes.

"We'll be taking utilities (plumbing), electrical (high voltage), power production, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), heavy equipment operators, and carpenters," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Parret, 446th CES heavy equipment operator. "Even though power production people and heavy equipment operators may not have a specific job in constructing these homes, they will gain valuable experience by helping those trades. This way, in contingency situations, they have basic knowledge to help out in other areas are they become force multipliers."

The SWIF operates a warehouse designed to accommodate the construction of three homes at a time. The homes are constructed in three phases, with each home in a different phase. This creates an assembly line type process that allows all AFSC's to be employed while at the site. The mission off site is to construct foundations, install minimal infrastructure, and set homes.

The intent of the 446th CES participation in the program is to provide quality upgrade and proficiency training to Reservists.

"I would say we'll have about eight Airmen who are three-levels working on upgrades to five-level," Parret said. "Also there will be some training for five-levels to get reacquainted with some of the tasks they don't perform on a regular basis. That's a key part of these projects; we can get people signed off on their skill levels, but it could be several months before they can practice those skills. So annual tours like this are critical for our people in maintaining proficiency."

As Operation Footprint has been an ongoing project for multiple years with a full-time staff, there is little need for supervisors in the McChord CES unit to handle administrative aspects of the program.

"They pretty much have everything laid out, like the tools and equipment. This project is well-defined," Parret said. "So, our seven-level NCOs will be able to stand back observing and helping and allowing the five-levels train the three-levels. This way our five-levels get more supervisory and management experience.

"It's hard to step back and let others do the work," Parret said. "When we went to (Southwest Asia) we would do work orders on Sunday to let the rest of the team to have the day off. It was just as much about NCOs in management having 'fun' as it was about giving the Airmen time off."

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