Military civil engineers give back to Sri Lankan community

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Blake Mize
  • Pacific Angel Public Affairs

Seventeen engineers from the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps are utilizing skills they have honed in their jobs to give back to a community in need during Operation Pacific Angel-Sri Lanka here.

PACANGEL is a joint and combined humanitarian and military civil assistance mission led by Pacific Air Forces to provide medical and engineering support to the people of Jaffna.

Alongside their Sri Lankan counterparts, the engineers complete various projects, including the installation of electricity and plumbing where before there was none. The team is also installing commodes, urinals and sinks to replace holes in the ground and water spouts.

Additionally, the team is repairing roofs, painting buildings inside and out, installing lighting and fans, building walkways, pouring concrete and performing any other task within their capabilities in an effort to refurbish the schools. These repairs will improve quality of life for the students and address safety concerns for the students.

"For this specific mission, we're providing construction and repair to three local schools to make the facilities a more effective learning environment and more comfortable for the kids," said Lt. Col. Douglas Woodard, the PACANGEL 13-4 mission commander from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. "The work we are doing here alongside our Sri Lankan counterparts will make the local community more resilient when another disaster strikes in the region."

Military engineers are making improvements at the Atchelu Saivapragasa Vidyalayam grade school, Kuddiyapaulam Mixed School, and the Punnalaikkadduvan Primary Grade school in Jaffna.

Most engineers volunteered to support PACANGEL. Many liked the idea of using their skills to help those less fortunate.

"I loved what the mission was and what we're doing and I was excited to come along," said 1st Lt. Renee Kittka, the 354th Civil Engineering Squadron base energy manager. "This is a great opportunity."

There are a total of 55 U.S. military members participating in PACANGEL 13-4. Along with the engineers, there are medical professionals providing health care to in-need Sri Lankans, as well as communication, contracting, logistics, finance, public affairs and security personnel.

"We all came here from different bases and branches of service to form our team here," Kimball said. "We're all integrating beautifully and getting along great. It's not just a one-branch site, it's a joint effort."

The PACANGEL operations are carried out annually in different countries throughout the Pacific region.

"We typically conduct four operations per year but this year we're conducting five," Woodard said. "Already this year we've been to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, and we're getting ready to head to Cambodia in September for our fifth mission."

Woodard said operations like these are vital in improving our humanitarian assistance capabilities.

"There is significant benefit in participating in an event like this," he said. "Most obviously, it enhances our ability to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the region. Secondly, it gives us experience with deploying aircraft and large numbers of personnel into and out of a partner nation, which is going to be required for a disaster response."

The Sri Lankan peoples' hospitality is making the operation much easier, Woodard said.