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New Hampshire Guardsmen train to deploy at Gitmo

August 14, 2009 -- GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (8/14/09) -- Members of the New Hampshire Air National Guard's 157th Civil Engineering Squadron are deployed to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and not running short of real-world conditions to prepare themselves for possible overseas deployment.

Since arriving on island at the beginning of August, they have immersed themselves in almost non-stop work, completing a number of projects in a short period of time.

"We have kept very busy here. As a matter of fact, the other day [Navy] Capt.
[Carl] Knuckles told us that in the first four days we were here, we completed about 10 days worth of work," said the non-commissioned officer-in-charge for the DFT, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Bill Russell.
Knuckles serves as the chief engineer for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

Although not the first location for the unit, which provides a gamut of services from construction to electrical and plumbing repair, Joint task Force Guantanamo is proving an important training tool for the Airmen.

"It is great coming down here, even if for two weeks, because we are helping out everyone here in Guantanamo, not just the JTF," added Russell, who has more than 20 years with the Air National Guard.

Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Busby, the commander of the 157th, enjoys what Guantanamo provides for his service members. The location has not only provided real-world training for the unit, but it also gives them the chance to experience an environment that differs greatly from their home state.

"When we come down, we have to deal with elevated temperatures, being away from home and even the living conditions. Those are the things that are going to make the difference when we deploy," said Busby.

The list of projects the team has been involved with have ranged from the relatively small, such as swapping out some electrical panels at the public works self-help building, to slightly more labor-intensive projects like resurfacing the roof of the naval station's hospital.

"Our guys were out at the hospital, the first week we were here, working on their roof. It gives my guys the opportunity to complete a job that not only gave my guys roofing experience but also saved the base nearly $50,000 in contractor costs," praised Russell, a nine-year active duty veteran.

In addition to resurfacing the hospital roof, they are also putting the finishing touches on a new gazebo, running electrical lines to the structure so that they will be able to hook up lights and a ceiling fan.

For Busby, who has been in the unit for more than 20 years as both enlisted and officer, this kind of on-the-job training is the type of thing that not only boosts the morale of his Airmen but also provides them with invaluable training that his unit has been lacking over the last few years.

"Over the last 10 years we have lost many personnel because they want to get out and do their jobs instead of preparing for inspections and other things that we have had in years past," said Busby.

Air Force 1st Lt. Carrie Smith, an engineering officer, echoed Busby's emphasis on the training as a great tool to enhance morale and teamwork within their unit of approximately 90 personnel.
"It is great that we get to come down here and have the opportunity to use equipment that we may not have back at home station. Our guys get to come down here and interact with one another and build on teamwork. We don't have to send our guys off to school to get the same training we are able to do down here," praised Smith.

Busby also recognizes the importance of overseas DFTs for his unit. He has noticed over the last 10 to 15 years the demographic of his unit has become younger. This leaves him with a force that may not hold the same jobs in the civilian world as they do in his unit.

"Years ago we had a lot more people that were doing their jobs outside of the military, so that lent us a great deal of expertise and knowledge for our guys to draw on," reflected Busby, who spent nine years enlisted as an electrician.

However, in the same breath Busby is quick to commend the younger Airmen for their willingness to work outside of their comfort zone and says that attitude gives him comfort for the future of his engineering squadron.

"I have guys who are plumbers by trade but have no problem when there are no plumbing jobs left, of picking up a hammer and helping out the construction guys. The degree to which they help each other out is amazing, these guys are one of a kind," said Busby.
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