183d CES Building Hope in Navajo Nation

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brad Leighton
  • 139th MPAD
When the wind blows, the red dust leaves the high desert plains and stings the eyes.

In this, coupled with 90-plus degree heat, the Airmen of the 183rd Civil Engineering Squadron, 183rd Fighter Wing Springfield, IL, worked nine to 12 hours each day in the desert plains. But despite hard work and fiery temperatures that would wilt most, at the 183rd's work site you hear playful bantering and laughter amid the banging hammers
and saw buzz.

"When I was in Afghanistan, we were helping people - and that was good," said Senior Airman Leonard Avery of Williamsville. "To be helping people here in the United States
- it just means so much more."

Approximately 35 members of the squadron helped construct a 3,200 square foot adult programs building for the St. Michaels Association for Special Education in the heart of Navajo Nation from June 18 to 30. The 183rd was the sixth of eight annual training rotations to work on the building this year. It is scheduled to open in August.

The facility is part of a five-year Department of Defense-sponsored, Air National Guard-conducted Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) project now in the second year. IRT projects train troops in their military skills while helping communities. With the Navajo
project, the non-profit association pays for supplies and materials. The Department of Defense, through the Air Guard, provides the labor, tools, equipment, management, building plans and oversight - worth $10.1 million. This more than halves the cost to the association and allows the project to be completed far earlier than the association could have done alone, said Gillis Chapela, the association's executive director. "The troops get a big thank-you from all of us," Chapela said.

The adult programs building will be used to teach life skills to close to 30  developmentally challenged adults. It is the second facility built for the association; the first was a nursing facility. A total of seven buildings will be constructed and many others will be renovated. The association, established in 1968 by a Catholic nun, serves as both a school and home for about 80 children and young adults with severe disabilities from across the Native American reservation.

National Guard Bureau leads the project with the Arizona Air National Guard, New Mexico Air National Guard and Colorado Air National Guard providing much of the logistics,
contracting support, administration and planning. Units from Illinois, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, Florida, Guam, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey, Arkansas, Tennessee and Montana have provided construction crews and additional planning.