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Civil engineer Airman builds civilian and military career

By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith | National Guard Bureau | June 02, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. — Though Senior Airman Samantha Ghareeb's Air Force occupation involves excavators and bulldozers, one of her more memorable experiences in uniform – helping to renovate an orphanage in Latvia – required only hand tools.

"I was tasked with putting what felt like 50 layers of stucco on the outside of the building," she said. "It was a great experience to help those kids."

Ghareeb, a heavy equipment operator with the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Civil Engineer Squadron, is a site safety coordinator for an energy company on the civilian side. Her entry into the construction world began in a warehouse.

"I was a fork lift operator and I actually enjoyed it – besides the fact that it was a dead-end job that had no future," she said. When Ghareeb was in the process of choosing her Air Force career path, she wanted to do something "hands-on that allowed me to be outside."

Nearly four years after enlisting, Ghareeb plans on staying in civil engineering – a career field that plays a crucial role of sustaining solid air power from the ground, she said.

Basically, we fit into the mission by maintaining aircraft runways and parking aprons," Ghareeb said. "Some of the highlights of our job involve operating, transporting and maintaining equipment while ensuring compliance with environmental and safety regulations."

She added her military experience helps her communicate better with civilian equipment operators by identifying what tasks and responsibilities they have on a job site.

"I can understand what they need from me and what I need from them," Ghareeb said, adding that improved organizational and planning skills can be attributed to the hours she spends in uniform. "It's [construction] all very precise. It's not just about pushing dirt around."

She said the skill sets acquired from the Air Guard have paved her way for high-quality, civilian job opportunities.

"Employers see the value in the ability to operate various pieces of equipment, which can help me get a better job," Ghareeb said.

Her ambition on the civilian side parallels her obligation to her squadron, said Ghareeb's supervisor, Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Martin, describing her as a "vital asset."

"She's always the first to volunteer," he said, adding that she is "almost looking for the hardest job there is to do."

But it's variety, Ghareeb said, that keeps her maneuvering equipment, interpreting blueprints and wearing hard hats.

"I like working on different projects in different locations," she said. Her past fieldwork has ranged from building zoo facilities to restoring living spaces for members of her community.

While she said her work is aligned with her outdoorsy spirit, Ghareeb doesn't discount the value of the classroom. She begins her senior year at Pittsburgh State University this fall, continuing her studies in construction and safety management.

"The classroom does have its strong points when it comes to problem solving and general knowledge that is specific to the [construction] industry," said Ghareeb. "Having a degree is a helping hand to get you where you want to be in life."

For now, she said she is focused on absorbing as much experience as possible — both in and out of uniform — before pursuing positions of greater responsibility, such as a field engineer or project manager for a commercial construction company.

"She has a strong sense of who she is as an Airman," said Martin, adding she brings the qualities of a top-notch Airman to the civilian world.

Regardless of what capacity she fills on the job site, Ghareeb said construction provides a purpose-filled professional life. "Hands down, my favorite feeling about construction would have to be the moment when I can drive by a project — or look at it in pictures — that has been completed, and tell people that I helped build that."