Reserve Airmen build homes, relationships
By Tech. Sgt. Stephen Bailey, 301st Fighter Wing
/ Published May 17, 2007
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Twenty-two civil engineers from the 301st Fighter Wing here left home to get involved in a 'labor of love' honoring some of Hawaii's most valued citizens.
They returned May 12 from a two-week deployment to Oahu where they worked on homebuilding projects for the elderly and handicapped at the Helemano Plantation on the northern end of the island.
"My guys have hit the ground running," said Chief Master Sgt. Ronnie Barham, 301st Civil Engineer Squadron team leader from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. "They came here wanting to make a big difference because they knew the work wasn't just another construction project -- it was impacting the lives of some very important people."
The chief explained that the organization spearheading the project, ORI Anuenue Hale ('Rainbow House'), is a nonprofit group dedicated to providing relief to and promoting the general welfare of the elderly, disadvantaged and disabled people of Oahu.
Members of the group -- the initials of which stand for "Opportunities for the Retarded, Inc." -- have been supporting the elderly and disabled communities since 1980.
The group's newest development is the Aloha Gardens, a 40-acre project that will include a day-care and wellness center for the elderly; a vocational training center; a campground area; agricultural and aquaculture operations; a country market and mini-golf area; and short-term respite care facilities.
"This entire project of love and goodwill has been the vision and dream of one lady, Susanna Cheung," said Chief Master Sgt. Luis S. Ayala, military project coordinator. "Mrs. Cheung is a very determined and passionate person who has seen a great need among the elderly and handicapped. She has done everything in her power to make a difference. I'm glad the military has gotten the chance to be involved."
Initially, Air Force Reserve Command civil engineers signed on to build three five-bedroom homes and a social hall in 2006 as part of its Innovative Readiness Training initiative, which, according to officials, has agreed to continue its support. IRT is a civilian/military partnership through which reservists receive training while supporting local communities throughout the United States. Reserve civil engineers have been involved in IRT projects for the past 10 years. Aloha Gardens was one of the more than 100 projects across the nation selected in 2006 by the IRT.
"Our people are doing excellent work," said Chief Barham. "They get to work every day by 6 a.m. and they don't finish until late in the evening. We take pride in our work and have been extremely glad to be part of this important humanitarian program."
Yvonne C. de Luna, Helemano Plantation public relations specialist, voiced similar enthusiasm for the 301st Fighter Wing' s efforts.
"The military has done an amazing job here - their tremendous support is making Mrs. Cheung's dream a wonderful reality," she said.
During their two weeks of training, the 301st reservists has completed the installation of a 750-foot fence, framed up three cabins, installed 10 15-foot street lights, set up and converted a trailer into an office and set up a supply tool system; and installed a water fill station; and dug a 40-foot trench and installed a water line for the fill station.
"I'll go anywhere with these guys - they're a class act," said Chief Ayala. "Very few civil engineer teams specialize, but the 301st Fighter Wing is a complete civil engineer team. They would be one of my first choices if I had to get a big job done."
The chief added that the 301st has supported other humanitarian projects in Honduras in 1996 and in Guatemala in 2001.
Other Air Force Reserve units will follow the 301st to continue the IRT project as a training opportunity. Team members have been able to train in various fields not directly related to their Air Force specialty.
Senior Airman B.J. Alexis, a heating and air conditioning specialist, said he has got the chance to do more than his regular job while in Hawaii.
"It's been a valuable learning experience," he said. "This is my first time to Hawaii but what has mattered most to me is the training and the work being done. We are helping out people who have difficulty helping themselves. That type of work makes you feel good inside." (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)