(Combined Sources) – On May 25, the Armenian Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Artem Asatryan and the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, Jr. attended the opening ceremony of the second building of a nursing home renovated by soldiers of the Georgia Air National Guard.
“These members of the Georgia Air National Guard represent some of the best of the best in the U.S. military, and now they have a personal understanding of the Armenian people that they can carry with them as they return home,” said Ambassador Mills.
Since May 10, dozens of civil engineers and structural craftsmen based at the Robins Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Georgia have been working on important renovations at Yerevan Elderly Institute No. 1, improving the safety and conditions of 12 residential suites and the common area of the institute. These members of the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron of the Georgia Air National Guard came to Armenia as part of the U.S. military’s Humanitarian Civic Assistance Program.
“This mission provided real-life experience similar to the conditions we face when deployed,” said Maj. Tasha Liscombe-Folds, deputy commander of the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron and lead project engineer for the mission. “We were able to hone our skills and develop new skills for world-wide contingency operations and our domestic operations response at home.”
Overcoming challenges was part of the standard daily operating procedures for the civil engineers. Working side-by-side with Armenian contractors while communicating through a translator, limited supplies, scarce and unfamiliar tools were the norm.
“Coming to the construction site and not having all the supplies or the same tools we are used to was immensely beneficial for our readiness,” said Liscombe-Folds. “When we deploy to support domestic operations, and highways and power grids are shut down, or we deploy to a country where everything is completely different, we have to adapt and that’s exactly what we did here.”
While the project was fraught with challenges, the opportunity to build relationships, learn a foreign culture, and help people in need was a common theme echoed by the Airmen.
“It has been eye-opening, it is definitely different than American life,” shared Senior Airman Casey Ashley, on being overseas for the first time. “It has been rewarding to be able to improve the residents’ quality of life.”
“I fixed a crack in a wall for a resident, she was very grateful and we formed a friendship,” said Ashley. “During my time here she taught me how to count in Armenian and I was able to learn some of her life story through old photographs she shared with me.”
Gratitude didn’t stop with the residents. Contractors, staff, and leadership expressed their appreciation throughout the project.
“We will be grateful for many years for the work you have done here,” said Khachik Sargsyan, director of Yerevan Elderly Institution No. 1. “The work carried out here will help our residents with hot water and heating and provide a safe and clean living environment.”
The military engineers replaced the flooring of the institute, making the entire facility safer for the elderly who rely on it. They also repaired bathrooms in the building, worked on sewage lines and electrical wiring, and replaced and refinished many walls. The renovation provided crucial skill-set training for the engineers, who were able to practice their skills in real-world settings. At the same time, the renovation continues the long-lasting friendship between the Armenian people and the citizens of the United States.
“This work began at our institution last year by the Kansas National Guard engineers and I would like to express my gratitude to them,” Sargsyan said. “The Georgia Air National Guard is continuing this tradition and I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron.”
After touring the newly renovated building, Minister Artem Asatryan also thanked the Georgia State U.S. military for their repair work and compassion towards helping Armenia.
“Through efforts such as this renovation, in partnership with the Armenian government and civil society, we at the Embassy are working to improve the lives of the Armenian people and help this historic nation have the secure, peaceful, and prosperous future it deserves,” Ambassador Mills said.
The Republic of Armenia signed a bilateral affairs agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense and the State of Kansas in 2003, establishing the Kansas-Armenia State Partnership Program, of which the Humanitarian Civic Assistance program is a part.
Toward the end of the project, the Airmen were recognized for their efforts as U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges and Kansas National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli visited the Yerevan Elderly Institution No. 1 to view the progress of the renovation.
“When I look at the talent here of young people from the United States who are here representing our country, working with Armenians, obviously I’m very proud of that,” said Hodges.
“As a fellow engineer, I will tell you the great thing about projects like this is this will last the test of time and you’ll have something you can reflect back on knowing you’ve been able to have an impact on a community here in Armenia,” said Tafanelli.