MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. – Eighty-four members of the 137th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron (137th SOCES) participated in deployment readiness training June 25-30 at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California.
This training is conducted every three years at a regional training site so that members can train on equipment they will likely operate during a deployment but might not have on their home base.
All aspects of the civil engineering career fields received specialty training, including: water fuels systems maintenance; power production; emergency management; engineering assistants; pavement and equipment; operations management; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration; structural specialists; environmental engineering; command and control; electricians; and fire and emergency services.
These components of civil engineering are vital to the creation and continued operation of a deployed location, so it was important that the squadron trained on that unique equipment without interruption.
"When we're at home, with Guard drill, there are a lot of activities that can distract from hands-on training," said Lt. Col. David McCormack, commander of the 137th SOCES."The nice thing here is there are no other distractions. Airmen can focus solely on specialty work and have all the tools at their disposal that they need to advance in their respective fields."
Accordingly, the training did not only focus on training for a deployment. Civil engineering Airmen can encounter many varieties of equipment at different bases internationally and stateside. Some 137th SOCES members received hands-on training for equipment they had not been able to operate during their initial technical training.
"It was my first time going to a training, but they make it easy here," said Airman 1st Class Sarah Stiltner, a pavement and heavy systems operator."The experience is awesome. I love everyone in my shop. If they see you struggling with something, even if they are on other equipment, they're the first ones to come over and see if you need help."
While civil engineering can be behind-the-scenes hard work, Stiltner said that she finds the reward in those details.
"The grater is my favorite piece of equipment to operate," she said."It takes a lot of skill and finesse to work the grater, so it makes it that much more sweet when you end up with the product that you want."
Airmen who had previously deployed or attended this training also had the chance to mentor newer members as they all worked toward becoming more skilled in their career fields.
"I notice they make some of the same mistakes I made on deployment," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Gibson, a pavement and heavy equipment operator."So if I notice them doing the same things, I make sure to explain it to them."
Gibson said that his deployment last year was the first opportunity he had to work with the equipment. It can be challenging to learn the finer aspects of operating machinery – especially since controls between different models of the same equipment can differ.
"Deployment gave me a chance to have hands-on practice with the equipment that we don't have on base," said Gibson."We had the time on deployment to sit there and learn the equipment."
This training was also a chance for the 137th Special Operations Fire and Emergency Services component with civil engineering to train with their Air National Guard sister unit, the 138th Fighter Wing (138th FW) from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nine members from the 138th FW Fire Department attended training with 14 firefighters from the 137th.
"We try to train together – it builds that teamwork and camaraderie," said Senior Master Sgt. Todd Lambert, 137th fire chief."The Tulsa fire chief and I believe we would need trained personnel from both squadrons for domestic operations, such as natural disaster response, so we're trying to take it to the next level and coordinate training together."
This training has a lasting impact for the Airmen who attend it. They gain knowledge that allows squadron operations to run more smoothly and cohesively. Most importantly, this training gives them the opportunity to better refine their skills to accomplish the Air Force mission.
"I think in an overarching way, there isn't a warfighter on the base that isn't enabled by what civil engineering does," said McCormack."We're thought of generally when there is a problem or when something needs to be fixed, but we're always active in the background, maintaining the base to help accomplish all warfighter operations."