CE rebuilds Armenian structures

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Allen Pickert
  • 190th Public Affairs
"Reserve all judgements until after you've had at least a few hours sleep."  That is how Lt. Colonel Jacob Salmond started the 190th Civil Engineering Squadron's (CES) time in Darbas, Armenia. The group arrived at the school house they would spend the next two weeks renovating at 3:00 a.m. after a six hour pounding ride on Armenia's rough roads.

The school house was a crumbling concrete, Soviet era building that contained more birds, bats and mice than it did electric lights or water fixtures.  The dreary first impression made by the building was compounded by the fact that their first night's sleep would be spent on its dirty floors as the cots were still being held by Armenian customs.

With the first day's light the CES crew was able to guage their task and start organizing their efforts. Not only were classrooms to be renovated at the school house, but there was also a health clinic that would get a new roof and have a bathroom replaced.

The buildings and the projects were in worse shape than most expected and Darbas was far too small and remote to be able to provide any tools or basic supplies. Senior Master Sgt. John Evans described Armenia as a "great opportunity for the younger airmen to function at a high level in less than optimum conditions." And operate at a high level they did. The classroom windows and floors had to be removed and the concrete sub flooring had to be smoothed and leveled before any new materials could go in.

The work at the health clinic went so well that the local doctor, Anush Nersisyan and her husband, Tigren, practically adopted the clinic work supervisor, Master Sgt. Michael Martin, and his crew. Having them come to their house for an appreciation diner where they were showered with gifts, good food and Armenian culture. The doctor's hospitality was so warm and gracious that Master Sgt. Martin claimed that the evening was "the best hours of my entire military life."

Darbas is remote.  When supplies ran low or needed tools were not available, substitutions had to be found. Keeping the projects on track fell on the shoulders of CES Operations Officer Maj. Don Harper and Chief Master Sgt. Brian Wohlertz. "We had to repurpose some material we removed from the school.  It really is a testament to the creativity and innovation of our Airmen," said Maj. Harper.

Though Darbas sits among picturesque mountains it is primitive.  The deployment qualifies for hardship duty pay because of the conditions and its close proximity to Azerbaijan and Iran. CES 1st Sgt., Master Sgt. Shawnna Hartford, described it like this: "This deployment is real, not just training. This is not  the type of deployment that people sign up for, this is a rough place."

While the conditions in the decrepit school house were rough, everyone in the CES crew was ready to work everyday without exception. "The squadron has the best attitude. Despite the rough conditions, they help each other through tough times and they bust their asses to do good work," Hartford said. The small Armenian village of Darbas has a better school and health clinic because of their efforts.