HIANG unit conducts first Pacific Unity operation in Papua New Guinea

Posted on Sep 17, 2014 in FY2014, In The News

by By Tech. Sgt. Terri Paden
PACUNITY Public Affairs

9/15/2014 – MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea —
Pacific Unity has been ongoing in the Asia-Pacific region since 2010, however the current iteration in Mount Hagen Papua New Guinea marks the first time the Air National Guard has taken the lead on the humanitarian assistance based operation.

Pacific Unity is a bilateral Engineering Civic Action Program conducted with host nation civil authorities and military personnel. The primary mission of Pacific Unity 14-8 is to construct two new dormitories for female students at Togoba Secondary School while promoting interoperability between the U.S. and Papua New Guinea, a task the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing readily agreed to take on.

“This is a big commitment by the National Guard Bureau,” said Lt. Col. Brad Waters, 154th Civil Engineer Squadron commander. “This is a first for us, but I knew we were going to be successful from day one. We wanted to showcase that the Guard is a viable option for projects like this; we have the knowledge, capability and resources.”

In addition to showcasing the ANG as an operational force, Waters said PACUNITY has provided his team a vital opportunity to strengthen their core skills and grow as a team.

The PACUNITY 14-8 team from the 154th WG is comprised of volunteers from within the unit. Though most hold Air Force Specialty Codes within the civil engineer skill set, few of the volunteers had construction backgrounds or experience.

“I was amazed at the level of support from our team,” Waters said. “We didn’t shy away from volunteers with skill sets that weren’t construction and we’ve been amazed at what non-traditional construction Airmen have been able to do.”

In approximately four weeks, the Pacific Unity 14-8 team, which includes not only HIANG Airmen, but active-duty Airmen, Papua New Guinea Defense Forces and day laborers from the local community as well, has managed to complete the construction of two dormitories, upgrade the electrical system in the school’s administrative building, re-paint the entire school, re-roof four boys’ dormitories, renovate the dining hall, add gravel to the school’s entry road, reconstruct the covered walkway and build new basketball goals for the school’s recreation area.

“Working on an installation is great because it’s mostly maintenance,” Waters said. “But when we go into our wartime task we have to be able to construct. That’s why small scale construction projects and training opportunities like this that involve all of our skill sets are invaluable.”

To off-set the lack of experience, Waters said the operation has relied heavily on the knowledge of the senior NCOs on the team. Five SNCOs with extensive construction experience were chosen as team leads.

“This project was perfect for what we intended to do, which was get our Airmen familiar with the construction process,” said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Davis, 154th CES chief enlisted manager and structures subject matter expert. “The first week was a learning experience but after the first week we felt confident they were knowledgeable to do things on their own.”

Davis said they knew they had the leadership and experience to move the project through completion, but wanted to take the opportunity to offer younger Airmen in the unit something they couldn’t get at homestation–real construction experience.

“The unit will lose its current subject matter experts through attrition so we are trying to grow our unit again and develop new leaders,” he said. “Exposing them to construction is one way we can do that.”

Waters said he’s seen significant growth in the younger Airmen over the course of the operation.

“One of the challenges we face in the Guard is to teach people to perfect a skill they don’t do every day and you can’t do that over one weekend a month,” Waters said. “That’s why we need to continue to seek out these opportunities and be ready for anything that comes our way.”

“Our Airmen are educated and they’ve been able to take instruction and run with it,” Waters said. “It’s about being able to take direction and understand it and execute it. I would take this team anywhere to complete any mission,” Waters said. “Our capabilities make this a unit that is very flexible and able to meet any type of objective.”

Waters said the 154th WG looks forward to taking the lead and participating in many future opportunities to come.