116th CES Excels at Navajo Nation

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Roger Parsons
  • 116th Air Control Wing
The 116th Civil Engineering Squadron left Robins Air Force Base, Ga. to take part in the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training program June 5.

The program is designed to provide real world training opportunities to prepare for wartime missions while supporting the needs of America's underserved communities.

This year the squadron took its skills to Window Rock, Ariz. to participate in an on-going construction project at St. Michaels Association for Special Education (SMASE) on the Navajo Nation reservation.

According to 2nd Lt. Jonathan Laughrun, 116th CES Project Manager, planning for the trip began in February during a pre-project meeting with participating IRT teams and staff from the Secretary of Defense. The preparation came to fruition as 42 members of the 116th CES packed their equipment and boarded a KC-135 Stratotanker bound for the nation's largest Indian reservation - the Navajo Nation.

The day after arriving in Gallop, N.M. where the team was staying, they traveled to Window Rock, Ariz. to begin work. Once on site, they met Senior Master Sgt. Leroy Rusk, Superintendent, 153rd Civil Engineering Squadron, Wyoming Air National Guard, and Navy Chief Scott Lodor, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, Fort McCoy, Wis., to receive briefings and lay out plans for the two-week project. During their stay, they were augmented by six members of the Navy Seabees (NMCB-25) and five members from the Air Force's 202nd Red Horse Squadron, Stark, Fla.

Once the team arrived and was briefed on SMASE and the tremendous work they do on the Navajo reservation, the trip became more than just another construction project and training opportunity. Interacting with the staff and clients gave the team a sense of purpose. They were able to see early on that their efforts would have a lasting positive effect on the Navajo community.

SMASE was founded in 1968 by Sister Marijane Ryan, a nun from Boston. Sister Ryan came from Boston to care for another nun who was dying of cancer at the Franciscan clinic on the reservation.

While there, she met a 6-year-old Navajo boy who had been crippled by polio. She began using her training in rehabilitation to help him walk.

The Sister's efforts were noticed by a local medicine man who proceeded to bring his grandson, a 3 year old with cerebral palsy, to Sister Ryan for care. Within three weeks, she was caring for 15 children. Thus began what is today St. Michaels Association for Special Education.

The school has been serving the needs of children and adults with disabilities and their families for more than 40 years. With a team of about 130 employees, SMASE currently serves more than 60 children and adults, 38 are residents receiving around-the-clock care.

During their two-week deployment, the 116th CES, along with the Navy Seabees and Red Horse construction teams, focused their efforts on three construction projects and heavy equipment work on the campus grounds. Benchmarks were set for each construction project consisting of two building renovations to house new classrooms and on going construction of a new adult life skills center.

In the midst of long hot days, high winds, and smoke from nearby Arizona fires, the 116th CES performed admirably.

"The team came together and performed higher than anyone's expectations," Senior Master Sgt. James Love, 116th CES operations superintendent, said. "They exceeded every benchmark. The duration staff gave us more work to do than they originally contracted us for, and the team stepped up and completed more work. The feedback from the duration staff was that we were one of the best teams that had been there thus far."

The main goal of this trip was to get the members of the 116th CES as much training time in their craft as possible, according to 2nd Lt. Jonathan Laughrun, 116th CES project manager. What they accomplished was far more reaching than that.

In the words of Gillis Chapela, SMASE executive director, "the efforts of the military will be felt for the next 20-30 years at St. Michaels. I am more than happy with the military and the work they have done for us."