By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell, 107th Airlift Wing
/ Published July 07, 2016
TIRANA, ALBANIA -- More than 25 Airmen from the 107th Civil Engineer Squadron from the 107th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard, participated in a two-week Deployment For Training to Albania, June 18-July 2, 2016.
The deployment saw the Airmen work in the vicinity of Vau Dejes, where they renovated a clinic and a school that both serve the needs of the local municipality. The work is being done in conjunction with Airmen from the New Jersey Air National Guard who will arrive immediately after the members of the 107th CES leave, and complete the work being done on the two buildings.
"It's a humanitarian support mission," said Maj. Ryan Forrest, commander of the 107th CES. "Both areas serve about 7,000 people and the clinic is probably the only source of medical care within almost 30 miles."
The area of Vau Dejes is very rural and agricultural based, and the local population can face challenges in getting access to such facilities that the civil engineers are working on.
Many of the people within the municipality only have limited means of transportation, which makes having a proper clinic within reach crucial to the community, said Forrest.
In its original state, the clinic was on its way to not being able to meet the medical needs of those who come to it.
"There are some walls that had quite a bit of water damage we believe from leaking sinks," said Forrest. "So we pulled out all the sinks and toilets, and we tore out sections of walls and we are going to replace them."
A major issue facing the clinic is that the local water supply is only on for a few hours a day, leaving them without a steady water source. A last minute task, but one that the 107th was up for.
The challenge was getting a 5,000 liter water tank up high enough off the ground so that when it is used to supply water, there is adequate pressure to deliver it, said Forrest.
Another major job was tearing off the existing rubber roof, repairing the structure and installing a new corrugated metal roof with gutters and down spouts, said Forrest. The exterior also got a new coat of paint, all the windows were replaced and two new exterior doors were installed, said Forrest.
The school, which is located in Mjede, is also seeing much needed renovations to improve the learning environment. It is considered an all-grades school, which includes children from elementary to high school level.
"It's a pretty austere environment," said Forrest. "The primary mission is to repaint it but we also replaced the broken windows and we are working on the bathrooms."
While there, the Airmen are also doing as many smaller tasks as they can, including caulking the windows to provide better insulation and cleaning up the grounds.
"The yard had random chunks of metal from when they used to do military training in high school," said Forrest. "We also laid out a new soccer field with the existing goal posts and we will also be putting in a basketball court."
With the multitude of tasks that the Airmen are faced with, they are taking it as an opportunity to get training that isn't always available to them at home.
"The training opportunity has been outstanding for multiple trades," said Master Sgt. Brian Schurr, a training supervisor assigned to the 107th CES. "Most of these guys don't do this day in and day out."
The civil engineers are doing many things that are outside of their usual skill set while working on the two buildings.
"Most of these guys are working outside of their trades," said Schurr. "But there's not one person that hasn't been giving 100 percent. Everyone realizes the big picture; that we're here to help and do a humanitarian mission and at the end of the day we are satisfied with the job knowing we made a difference."
One of the biggest obstacles in accomplishing this mission is the language barrier, said Schurr. However, through working with the Albanians they have found a way to get the work done together, said Schurr.
The Airmen are able to show expertise and skills that they bring from outside of the Air Force that greatly contributes to the quality of work being done.
"You get to see different sides of our trades-people who don't normally do this bring their specialties to the plate," said Shurr. "Seeing a different side of guys that you normally don't see is huge."
Overcoming all of the difficulties, everyone involved has had a positive attitude towards this deployment and has stepped up to do whatever is asked of them, said Schurr. That has been one of the biggest factors in making the trip to Albania enjoyable for everyone involved, said Schurr.
With the 107th CES only being in Albania for two weeks, Airmen from the New Jersey National Guard are going to immediately follow on and finish the clinic and school.
"I hope to finish up with the school, that includes painting, refinishing the bathrooms and grading the grounds so it doesn't hold water," said Master Sgt. Ryan Butcher, a structural NCO in charge assigned to the 177th Fighter Wing from Atlantic City, New Jersey. "Hopefully within the first week of the 177th FW arriving the clinic will be finished."
Working alongside the Airmen of the 107th CES helps to ensure that there will be a smooth transition when the civil engineers from the 177th FW arrive to keep the work going seamlessly, said Butcher.
Once the work is completed, the Peace Corps, who has volunteers in the clinic and school and has helped coordinate getting many of their needs taken care of, will be better equipped to serve and help the local community.
"The community health center was in terrible shape," said Sarah Senior, an English teacher with the Peace Corps. "It was very bad for people to go there, the conditions were poor and now people will feel more comfortable to go there."
Along with being better for the local population, the working environment will be better for the staff, said Senior. Donations will arrive when the clinic reopens, and the level of care that they will be able to provide will improve, said Senior.
With such a visible presence in this small community, many have noticed the level of effort that the Airmen are putting in to make improvements to the community's way of life.
"People are very excited by what the Air Force is doing," said Senior. "They are talking about the Americans in town, and they think it is amazing they come here and donate their time and resources to people they don't know."
In turn, the people of Albania have been supportive and hospitable to the 107th CES each day of their deployment.
"We've been supported everyday by three 2nd lieutenants from the Albanian army as translators," said Forrest. "Not only do they help translate when we need materials, but they also make things happen. If we need any type of logistical support or need to talk to anyone from the local government, they make it happen."
The town of Vau Dejes and the local Albanian army base where the 107th CES is staying has been nothing but welcoming and happy to have the Airmen in their community, said Forrest. The Airmen have taken every opportunity they can to embrace the Albanian culture, said Forrest.
"The beauty of Albania and the history that is here is mind blowing," said Forrest. "There are castles and structures dating back to 400 B.C. that are still accessible. You walk up to the gate and you roam around, it's amazing through all of this time this history is still standing."
The 107th CES came to Albania to work, but will leave with a lasting impression made on them by their experience here.
"I enjoyed the culture, and how the history went so far back and has been undisturbed," said Schurr.
There is hope that the brief time the Airmen are in Albania will leave a lasting impression on the community, through the improvements made to the clinic and school.
"I hope to put smiles on people's faces," said Schurr. "At the end of the day, hopefully we made a significant change for them."