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USAF, Andersen CAT team ends 6-month mission in Palau

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz
  • Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force Civil Action Team (CAT) 554-01 was relieved of duty by U.S. Navy CAT 133-26 during a change of charge ceremony, held Feb. 19, 2016, at the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center, located in Palau’s Koror state.

The 554th RED HORSE Squadron from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, took the reins of the CAT in August 2015 and was relieved of duty by Seabees from the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment, hailing from Mississippi.

Airmen of CAT 554-01 provided construction capabilities, apprenticeship training, medical outreach and community engagement opportunities while deployed to the Republic of Palau.

The CAT program began in 1971 and is the continuation of a bond formed with the U.S. since World War II. The countries are now joined under a Compact of Free Association, which allows the U.S. to operate militarily within the region in exchange for economic assistance.

Civic action teams operate for six-month assignments and rotate between Army, Air Force and Navy teams.

During their six months in Palau, CAT 554-01 teamed up with the Republic of Palau to complete more than 100 community outreach events and several construction projects, totaling approximately 1,800 hours of labor.

One of the projects the Airmen undertook during their six-month stay included a four-phase project to construct an 11,000 square-foot concrete parking lot and driveway for the Emmaus Church and School, which will be completed by the new Navy team.

The biggest project CAT 554-01 Airmen completed during their tenure was the complete renovation of the Palau National Olympic Swimming Pool. This was no simple task, as the pool measures nearly 88,000 cubic feet.

“We teamed up with the apprentices and refinished the entire pool,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Hamilton, CAT 554-01 structural craftsman. “We had to remove the lining, replace it with new lining, resurface the entire pool and re-tile where applicable. The task was difficult, but when you add Palau’s humidity and black-flag conditions, it makes it much more difficult. Luckily for us, we have a skilled team and a great partnership with our apprentices.”

While in Palau, each member of the USAF Civil Action Team helped train one to two apprentices in their respective expertise. Once their training was completed, the apprentices received certifications allowing them to seek a job in that respective career field throughout Palau.

In addition, Capt. Jeffrey Jarvis, a physician assistant deployed from the 18th Medical Group at Kadena Air Base, Japan, lent his expertise to the Republic of Palau as he helped (while continuing his predecessor’s work) graduate 13 emergency medical technicians. The class was the first of its kind, as the graduates are the first U.S. certified EMTs ever in Palau.

“There were some speed bumps during the process,” Jarvis said. “But that was simply because of the changeover in personnel, not because of the students. They are more than qualified and now they are equipped with valuable life-saving skills, which will serve to enhance our partnership with the Republic of Palau.”

Although the Palauan apprentices received valuable training from the CAT members, the team stated they were able to learn a few new tricks from their students.

“We really couldn’t have completed anything without the help of our apprentices,” said Staff Sgt. Chad King, CAT 554-01 heavy equipment operator. “There may be ten different ways to build a house, and maybe the way we are doing it isn’t the best. I’ve learned a lot on the job while working with these great individuals.”

King said beyond the positive experience he had working with the apprentices, he said the best part was being the Civil Action Team’s community relations coordinator.

The COMREL coordinator described his experience in Palau as the "golden ticket," and said every job, every event, every day, is fulfilling.

“This isn’t like your typical deployment,” King said. “As the community relations coordinator for 554-01, I have had the opportunity to meet thousands of great people. We helped coach children in sports, taught people to swim and even hosted a haunted house. One week, we could be manning a water station for a walk-a-thon, and the next week we could be playing Santa Claus for children in the community.”

Although the "golden ticket" deployment was six months long, King said he wishes to come back to Palau, and even said he would love to move his family here. Unfortunately, for the time being, King’s (and 554-01’s) time in Palau is finished.

CAT 554-01’s final day ended at their home, Camp Katuu, where they unveiled a memorial dedicated to the seven Palau veterans who perished while serving in the U.S. military.

The team then finished cleaning up their gear, packed their bags, and said one last goodbye to Camp Katuu, as the naval team settled in to their home for the next six months.

“For us to be able to help out here means a lot to us,” said Capt. Naseem Ghandour, CAT 554-01 officer in charge. “This is a very unique experience, one I will never forget. I am proud of what my team has accomplished in the last six months, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to partner with the people and the Republic of Palau.”

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