149th Civil Engineers complete Southern California tasks

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ripps
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Four dozen members of the 149th Civil Engineer Squadron traveled from San Antonio, Texas, to southern California June 14-28 to help with construction projects in support of Operation Jump Start, the National Guard's southwest border security support mission.
Camp Morena, in a remote area some 50 miles from San Diego, Calif., served as the forward operating base for their two-week stay, during which they took on a variety of projects that will benefit both U.S. Armed Forces members and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents who may train and conduct other activities in the area.

Other civil engineer units had begun or continued these and other projects in the area under Operation Jump Start, which was initiated specifically to support CBP for two years, allowing more border patrol agents to concentrate on the border while others were hired and trained. Capt. Vince Salazar, 149th CES deployment commander, explained that the squadron was the last civil engineer unit to "cycle" into the area under Operation Jump Start, which officially ended July 15. The CE projects were coordinated through Task Force Steel Castle.

The tasks the 149th CES tackled included continuation of improvements at a firing range, a water crossing, and a helicopter landing site -- all at different locations accessible chiefly via dusty roads that wind through rocky, mountainous terrain -- as well as rehabilitation of a building back on Camp Morena.

At the Navy's La Posta firing range -- even as labor began on two buildings and part of the firing range itself - squadron members measured and surveyed every structure on the site. The CEs applied their skills to one of the buildings, called a Professional Engineer Building, installing partitions, mirrors and electrical fixtures to the restroom and erecting a chain-link security fence in the storage area of the same building. On a building directly adjoining the firing range, they finished the wood decking and installed 1,700 square feet of metal roofing. They also dug a 160-foot trench for electrical and communications lines, installed circuit breakers and additional conduits, and designed and built nine weapon cleaning tables. Perhaps the hardest task at this location, however, was completion of the "eyebrow."

Senior Master Sgt. Dave Wissmann, assigned to oversee the range tasks, explained that the eyebrow was the barrier at the back of the firing range. Its steel framework was already in place.

"We had to install a wood frame so we could attach the plastic sheeting," said Sergeant Wissmann, a 16-year veteran of the squadron. The sheets of plastic measure four by eight feet and are about three-eighths of an inch thick. The combination of steel, wood and plastic is designed to deflect stray bullets into the soft-dirt berm beneath the eyebrow.

The term water crossing might seem out of place in this dry region, but a flash flood in the canyon, a 45-minute drive from the firing range, would wipe out the dirt road between the mountain ranges. Another unit had already laid the concrete for the crossing, which is designed to allow water to flow over it. But the crossing needed some concrete patch work, the installation of steel-pipe railing and some excavation around it.

"We're trained in concrete work and welding," said Master Sgt. Dan Casanova, foreman for the five individuals assigned to the site. "But we're all heavy equipment operators here."

One piece of heavy equipment included a Volvo A35D "site truck" used to haul boulders to the Smith Canyon crossing as a retaining wall at the crossing. Sergeant Casanova made 11 trips between the crossing and the site where boulders as heavy as 400 pounds were piled on to the oversized dump truck. Despite carrying loads weighing some 10 to 15 tons each, Sergeant Casanova made good time over the roller-coaster-like trail in the truck.

"It rides like a Cadillac on the inside," he said with a smile.

Another concrete task waited at the site of a planned helicopter port for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The 149th's civil engineers completed forming and steel tying for the 40-by-100-foot slab that will provide the base for shell structures to be constructed at a later time to shelter helicopters. As it turned out, the actual pouring of the concrete would be left to another unit, another day.

Camp Morena, basically a 1950s era installation, has been used by elements of the U.S. Army for the last two years but had previously fallen into disuse. One structure in a bad state was the former exercise building. Before beginning the work of interior demolition the afternoon of June 15, they identified and removed power, water and gas to the building. They had the inside pretty well stripped and the resulting debris - 40 cubic yards of it -- removed by the afternoon of June 17. During the rest of their stay, the civil engineers repaired air conditioning units and accomplished other electrical work in five other buildings at the camp.

Master Sgt. Robert Taylor, liaison for the Air National Guard at Camp Morena, termed any work the 149th completed on Camp Morena a "bonus." Both before and during the deployment, he worked closely with Chief Master Sgt. Oscar Tey of the 149th CES to ensure coordination for equipment and supplies and communication among the different units and agencies.

"Out here radio and cell phone communication is limited and can break down," Sergeant Tey said, explaining that it necessitated he constantly drive between the various work sites. He pointed out that as chief of CE operations, he also had responsibility for the professional development of the unit's enlisted members.

"The responsibility is two-fold," he said. "To meet requirements and accomplish tasks, and to make sure members have maximum opportunity to train in their respective Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs)."

Captain Martinez had no doubt the civil engineers received excellent training.

"Outside the comfort zone of their own unit, they got good training they wouldn't get otherwise," he said. "We put our people through a lot."

Lt. Col. Susan Vaneau, 149th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, made the observation that all civil engineer AFSCs were represented on this deployment and that 55-60 percent of those deploying were cross-trained. She also noted that, the more AFSCs an Airman possesses, the better are his or her opportunities for promotion.

Cross-training also came in handy during this deployment. The CE professionals had to adapt whenever material was not immediately available or the execution of assigned tasks revealed other necessary tasks had to be accomplished first.

"Things flowed more smoothly after the first few days," said Maj. Miller, operations officer for the deployment. "Projects we thought we had changed ... but we have to be able to adapt.

"It's amazing how people can pick up and what they can accomplish," he continued. "Diverse skills sets and diverse fields can do just about anything."

Colonel Vaneau concurred: "We have diverse individuals come together as a team," she said. "They learn to take what they have and work with it."

She said the next deployment could be for six months overseas, which made this deployment important. And this deployment also coincided with the winding up of Operation Jump Start.

In regard to the projects spawned during Operation Jump Start in the area, "the 149th CES did the mopping up," Navy Chief Master Robert Laskey, officer in charge of La Posta range, said in characteristically direct fashion. "They got the training. We got a great product."