Georgia Air Guard engineers partner with Armenia to renovate elderly center
By Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons and Master Sgt. Regina Young, 116th ACW Public Affairs
/ Published June 09, 2016
YEREVAN, ARMENIA -- A team of military civil engineers from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, completed a humanitarian mission renovating a residential wing of a home for the elderly in Yerevan, Armenia, May 10-25.
Airmen from the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing and an active duty structural craftsman from the 461st Air Control Wing worked in partnership with Armenian contractors on a floor to ceiling renovation to improve the safety and living conditions of 12 residential suites with common areas at the Yerevan Elderly Institution No. 1.
The institution provides accommodation, food, clothes, health and psychological care to 236 residents who are over 65 years of age, alone and unemployed; and those over 18 years of age who need special care.
The project, part of the European Command Humanitarian Civic Assistance program, afforded the opportunity for the Airmen to complete essential skill-set training while providing the skills, tools, resources, and training so the Armenian people can continue to build their future, strengthen their society and develop social services.
"This mission provided real-life experience similar to the conditions we face when deployed," said Maj. Tasha Liscombe-Folds, deputy commander of the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron and lead project engineer for the mission. "We were able to hone our skills and develop new skills for world-wide contingency operations and our domestic operations response at home."
Overcoming challenges was part of the standard daily operating procedures for the civil engineers. Working side-by-side with Armenian contractors while communicating through a translator, limited supplies, scarce and unfamiliar tools were the norm.
"Coming to the construction site and not having all the supplies or the same tools we are used to was immensely beneficial for our readiness," said Liscombe-Folds. "When we deploy to support domestic operations, and highways and power grids are shut down, or we deploy to a country where everything is completely different, we have to adapt and that's exactly what we did here."
While the project was fraught with challenges, the opportunity to build relationships, learn a foreign culture, and help people in need was a common theme echoed by the Airmen.
"It has been eye-opening, it is definitely different than American life," shared Senior Airman Casey Ashley, on being over-seas for the first time. "It has been rewarding to be able to improve the residents quality of life."
"I fixed a crack in a wall for a resident, she was very grateful and we formed a friendship," said Ashley. "During my time here she taught me how to count in Armenian and I was able to learn some of her life story through old photographs she shared with me."
Gratitude didn't stop with the residents. Contractors, staff, and leadership expressed their appreciation throughout the project.
"We will be grateful for many years for the work you have done here," said Khachik Sargsyan, director of Yerevan Elderly Institution No. 1. "The work carried out here will help our residents with hot water and heating and provide a safe and cleaning living environment."
"This work began at our institution last year by the Kansas National Guard engineers and I would like to express my gratitude to them," shared Sargsyan. "The Georgia Air National Guard is continuing this tradition and I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron."
The Republic of Armenia signed a bilateral affairs agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense and the State of Kansas in 2003, establishing the Kansas-Armenia State Partnership Program, of which the Humanitarian Civic Assistance program is a part.
Towards the end of the project, the Airmen were recognized for their efforts as U.S. Army Europe Commander, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges and Kansas National Guard Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli visited the Yerevan Elderly Institution No. 1 to view the progress of the renovation.
"When I look at the talent here of young people from the United States that are here representing our country, working with Armenians, obviously I'm very proud of that," said Hodges.
"As a fellow engineer, I will tell you the great thing about projects like this is this will last the test of time and you'll have something you can reflect back on knowing you've been able to have an impact on a community here in Armenia," added Tafanelli.