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Newest CES leaders gain experience, build classrooms

By Master Sgt. David Kujawa | Fort Indiantown Gap | July 22, 2019

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. —

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Sometimes, leaders are created in a classroom, unless, of course, they are Air National Guard civil engineers. Then, leadership is learned by building a classroom.

More than two dozen Airmen from the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Civil Engineering Squadron are converting an unused old building at Pennsylvania's sprawling Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center into a multi-use classroom facility. In the process, the squadron's newest officer, 2nd Lt. Jason Cabra, is gaining his first experience as a mission commander.

The team’s mission is to use realistic wartime skills while performing construction renovations of the historic building's interior. This is typical for the engineers -- an opportunity to train in their individual skills, while putting those construction skills to good use by building or renovating a structure. In this case they are building a new state-of-the art training center at Pennsylvania's largest military training center.

After receiving his commission only two months ago, Cabra's responsibility here is to serve as a liaison between the project's overall manager and the Michigan Airmen actually doing the physical work -- be it drywall, electrical, or building new walls. The project's scheduling is more complex because the Airmen from Selfridge Air National Guard Base are only one of four such units that are rotating in this summer, all in two-week stints, to finish the project.

“Being new and in charge is the challenge,” said Cabra, who added that leaning on the unit's senior enlisted personnel is a critical part of the experience.

"We have our more senior personnel providing training for our junior Airmen. Flexibility is the key," Cabra said.

The 127th CES team consisted of several senior experienced electricians, heating and cooling experts, plumbers and structure builders who provided hands on training for the junior Airmen.

"Foremost in my mind is that we represent our entire squadron, the people who are on this trip and the ones who are not. We want to hold ourselves to the highest standard of behavior and customer service," Cabra said.

As the project progressed, Cabra and 1st Lt. Adam Vermeesch, 127th Civil Engineer Squadron, watched as their squadron's Airmen progressed through a series of tasks on the project.

"We worked to integrate the tasks and really manage our schedule between those mudding drywall, tiling floors, running electrical, and more,” Vermeesch said, "It’s part of the process of learning how to get the most from your team, under a tight schedule."

Coordinating with the Michigan crew and overseeing the project as a whole is an experienced construction manager, Master Sgt. Antonio Robinson of the 117th Civil Engineering Squadron, Birmingham, Alabama.

Robinson said he liked what he saw from the Selfridge Airmen, the first of this summer's four rotational teams that will work on the squadron.

“The 127th CES Airmen have exceeded my expectations and I only hope the rest of the rotations will accomplish as much,” Robinson said.

While Robinson and Pennsylvania officials are looking forward to their new classroom being ready to go this fall, the Selfridge team will benefit as well.

“Observing Vermeersch’s leadership style and how he works with the crew is a great experience. I am looking forward to establishing new relationships, learning from them, and passing on some of my experiences,” Cabra said. “I have learned a lot from our Airmen and enjoyed working with them. I hope to see all deployments run as smooth.”