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Reserve Engineers Remain Asset to Pacific Airfields

  • Published
  • By Capt. Torri White
  • 477 Fighter Group Public Affairs
The 477th Civil Engineer Squadron recently deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska for an opportunity to once again contribute to the building of facilities in the Pacific theater.

In 1941, the 477th Civil Engineer Squadron, then the 804th CES, was activated at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii as the 804th Engineering Aviation Battalion. Its mission was primarily to build, maintain and repair airfields in the Pacific.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they were the first group of engineers to begin recovery operations and continued to build, maintain and fortify facilities in Saipan, Canton, Fiji, New Zealand and Hawaii in support of the Marshall, Caledonia and Gilbert Campaigns for several years.

"This was a great opportunity to come back and do what we do best, build facilities to support and maintain air superiority in the Pacific," says Major Kevin Thomas, 477th CES commander. "It also enabled us to complete core training that sometimes takes years."

The squadron was deactivated in November 1945, and on October 1, 1994 the Air Force Reserve reactivated the 804th CES at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. On October 2, 2007, the squadron was acquired by the 477th Fighter Group, a new reserve unit in Alaska, and was re-designated as the 477th Civil Engineer Squadron.

From 2003-2006 the 477th CES performed annual tours preparing for Operational Readiness Inspections. Last year they deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan for Silver Flag, a contingency-based training exercise designed for civil engineers.

This year they embraced the opportunity to fine tune their war time skills, and contribute to one of U.S. Pacific Command's top construction priorities. Northwest Field, an area constructed of two parallel abandoned runways on over 2000 acres along Guam's north shore, will soon be home to a new Expeditionary Combat Support Campus for the 554th RED HORSE Squadron, the 607th Combat Communications Squadron, the 607th Commando Warrior Squadron and the 554th RHS, Det 1 (Silver Flag).

The 477th CES contributed by clearing and grading land, as well as assisting with the ground up construction of several facilities.

The $200 million dollar bed down of the three squadrons and one detachment uses RED HORSE labor, with MILCON and O&M funding. The 554th RHS is currently busy with 18 construction projects that include road work and infrastructure. A contract to provide power, water and sewer is in progress.

With over five million square feet to clear and more than 50 facilities to build, the help was well received.

"This is no small project and the Reserves being here helps us (554th RHS) bulk up our resources," says Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Batherson, Chief of Operations for the 554th RHS. "With under 100 people total on any given day, and not all of those working on the construction project; it really helps to have them here," says Sergeant Batherson. "It starts raining a lot from July through November, so it's good to have the help now getting the walls and ceilings up. Then we can work on the interior when the rain starts."

The first group of 16 was on site March 27 - April 12 and the second rotation of 17 was here April 13- April 26.

"We were able to use all of our AFSC's for this project," says Chief Master Sgt. David Lishman, 477th CES Civil Engineer Manager. "We brought 34 qualified and trained civil engineers to the island including heavy equipment operators, power production, structures, electrical, liquid fuels, heating, ventilation and air conditioning/refrigeration (HVAC), utilities, engineering assistants and even an entomologist."

The deployment enabled several members of the 477th CES to polish their craftsman skills, while offering others a chance to learn something new.

"They are laying rebar much different than I learned in tech school, and I'm glad I get to learn something new," says Senior Airman Kyle Warner, 477th CES heavy equipment operator. "I'm fairly new to the unit and this is my first time to work a construction project with the squadron."

Master Sgt. Tammy Thompson, newly selected 477th CES First Sergeant, performed her duties for the first time in a deployed environment.

"I attended the base First Sgt. meetings here and worked as a liaison with the 554th RHS. Working as a First Sergeant on this deployment has been a great learning experience. Most importantly I helped our Airmen secure the tools they need to work hard and also set up tours for them to enjoy the island in their free time."

477th CES electricians assisted in the installation of the electrical distribution system for Northwest Field. "Basically that's ground up electrical work for a whole new base," says Master Sgt. Gorman Flatt, 477th CES electrician "and it's also giving us a chance to check off our yearly qualifications," adds Tech. Sgt. Clint Shulenski.

"Northwest Field was the ideal location for the 477 CES Annual Tour this year," says Col Eric Overturf, 477th Fighter Group Commander. "Arctic Reservists got the chance to improve their combat readiness while providing much needed support for one of PACAF's most important construction projects. This deployment adds a new chapter to the unit's proud legacy of support for Pacific theater construction dating back to Pearl Harbor in 1941."