Arizona Airmen build, renovate Georgian orphanages

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing public Affairs

More than 30 Arizona Air National Guard members from the Phoenix-based 161st Air Refueling Wing spent most of July in Galavani and Tsilkani, Georgia, remodeling and rebuilding two orphanages as part of a Humanitarian and Civic Assist mission coordinated through the Department of State.

The Humanitarian and Civic Assistance program is a multipurpose training and engagement tool. Because of their humanitarian nature, HCA deployments serve as low cost, short duration, high impact events that engage host nation militaries, civilian ministries, and local populations in a unique and positive manner. They are also meant to enhance the specific operational skills of the service members who participate.

“We do it to show the good faith of the U.S. by partnering with other nations,” said Maj. Simon Amavisca, 161st Civil Engineer Squadron, operations flight commander and troop commander for the 161 CES in Georgia.

“Every time they see us, they see America,” added Senior Airman Marco Moreno, an HVAC specialist with the team. “That is why this was important. We were representing America as a whole, and I think we did a good job.”

Tech. Sgt. Patrick Celaya, a structural craftsman, said that by partnering and working with other countries the U.S. is showing partner nations that Americans can adapt and work together.

“For example, at the job site, we stepped back and watched the local Georgian craftsmen work; and we learned from them,” said Celaya. “We weren’t just taking over the job and making them complete it how we are used to, we adapted to their style. They witnessed first-hand that we are willing to adapt and work with other countries.”

An initial site visit in November identified projects the U.S. and Georgia could team up to accomplish. Two members from the 161st, two members of the 165th Airlift Wing from Savannah, Georgia, and one person from the National Guard Bureau, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, made the initial trip. Airmen from the 161st would complete their two weeks and hand the projects over to the 165th for completion.

The team visited two orphanages, one in Galavani and one in Tsilkani. Each home houses approximately 10 children, ranging in age from 6 to 18 years of age. The team compiled a list of projects the house mothers asked to be completed. Upon returning back to United States, the team decided which projects would have the most impact and could be completed within the allowed time frame.

The primary project in Galavani, was to build a new classroom separate from the home. Airmen were also tasked to construct a room addition to serve as an office and make drywall repairs in preparation for painting and wallpaper installation.  The second home, in Tsilkani, had an exterior garage which the team renovated and repurposed into a dry storage area for food and clothing. The home’s electrical, plumbing, interior walls, flooring, doors, and the irrigation system were also planned to be upgraded.

“Most of what they asked to be done, got done,” said Amavisca.

Celaya said he enjoyed completing the projects and working directly with Georgian nationals. He said he especially enjoyed watching how they complete tasks and then comparing it to how he would accomplish it.

“It’s been a good learning experience,” said Celaya. “I’ve never seen the way they mix concrete directly on the cement pad like they do here. They dump the sand and lime in the middle of the pad, mix it dry and then turn it out into a crater formation. They then fill the crater with water and just start mixing it up with a shovel.”

“I just might start using the mixing technique at home,” he said with a smile. “It’s a lot easier than trying to mix it in a wheel barrel, plus it saves money from renting a mixer.”

Amavisca said the American and Georgian engineers successfully overcame language barriers to exchange ideas and building techniques.

“Both sides were curious to learn about each other and the way they do things. Sometimes they had a hard time explaining what it was they were trying to do, but of course there was the failsafe of the interpreter,” said Amavisca.

He said positive attitudes on both sides ultimately allowed them to overcome communication barriers.

Celaya agreed, “Communication was the biggest challenge, but as we went along it got easier because we started understanding, not necessarily what they were saying, but through hand motions and gestures. In the end, we were able to work really well side by side.”

The Airmen said the work was especially meaningful since the projects would improve orphans’ living conditions.

“I really like the purpose of this work - helping the orphans,” said Amavisca. “My daughter told me before I left, ‘I don’t want you going, but since you are helping orphans it’s okay’. It’s such a nice thing to do and makes you feel great.”

Celaya said he loves serving as a civil engineer because he creates things that will last.

“I’m a father,” he said “If something happened to me and my wife I’d want someone to be there for my kids. Kids are near and dear to my heart, so I feel really good about what we completed.”