WyANG members work on reservation

  • Published
  • By 1st. Lt. Rusty Ridley
  • 153rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 153rd Civil Engineering Squadron continue construction affiliated with St. Michaels Association for Special Education (SMASE) on the Navajo Nation, in Arizona.

SMASE is included in the National Guard's Innovative Readiness Training (IRT)program, a civil military affairs program linking military units with civilian communities for humanitarian projects.

This year, the focus has been a new adult treatment center.

"We really needed a lot of space," said Elaine Long, training coordinator for the campus and director of adult treatment. "With all the different rooms, we can zero in on assessing

The school has been serving the needs of children and adults with moderate to severe disabilities for more than 40 years regardless of tribal affiliation and state of residency. The children, a majority of them Navajo, come from all over the Navajo Reservation, the largest in America. St. Michael's is school and home for more than 80 children and young adults.

Because of limited space, SMASE has had to turn people away. "The new building means we are able to accept more clients," Long said. "It will mean everything to the clients and their families." Families and clients have been watching the progress with anticipation. "They keep asking," said Long. "I can envision the activities we will have. I'm excited."

From inside the nurse's station, constructed last year as part of the project, Pat Smith, director of nursing, reflected on her time at St. Michaels. "It just felt like I was being called to work on the reservation." A native of New Jersey, Smith said, "I promised them two years; I have been here eleven. They're really special kids."

Senior Master Sgt. Leroy Rusk, structures superintendent for the 153rd Civil Engineering Squadron is the program manager superintendent for the project.

"It's a great project." Rusk said. "The Navajo Nation provides the materials and the military provides the labor, tools, and heavy equipment. It's a win-win situation for both parties."

Communication equipment was donated from the 153rd Communications Squadron. "SMASE has been very grateful for the extra materials," Rusk said.

The ongoing project has seen several contrib-utors from Guam, Utah, and Florida Air National Guard units and Seabees from Ft. McCoy, Wis.

"They've done a great job," said Rusk. "It's good for the Air National Guard because, in the civil engineering world, this is the one time during the year where the teams are brought in to practice and train additionally in their skills: surveying, engineering, plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and communication.

The project has the whole facet from bringing a project from ground level, up to a finished project."

In addition to honing skills, it's about community.

"It's great to be part of something to help people," said Master Sgt. Chad Holmes, pavement and equipment journeyman of the 153rd Civil Engineering Squadron.

"This has been so wonderful," said Long. "For some, this is their home; they deserve this."