Red Horse Airmen renovate Chilean school's library
By Master Sgt. Eric M. Grill, Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
/ Published November 04, 2008
11/3/2008 - QUILPUÉ, Chile (AFNS) -- Two Airmen completed renovations of a dilapidated library at a Chilean culinary and hotel service high school here Oct. 31 giving 80 students a comfortable and usable library the students and faculty can use for years to come.
The renovation, the result of Operation Southern Partner - a two-week Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) led event aimed at providing intensive, periodic subject matter exchanges with partner nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus - took the two Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer, or RED HORSE Airmen, and their Chilean civilian counterparts four days to complete; three days ahead of schedule.
"To us, it doesn't look like much, but for what it looks like today compared to how it was when we got here is night and day," said. Master Sgt. Roger Wilhelm, 819th RED HORSE Squadron electrical systems noncommissioned officer in charge at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. "The wallpaper was falling off the walls and there were several holes in the ceiling."
Because the electrical system was completely different from anything the two Airmen have ever seen, they also completely rewired the library's electrical system as well, Sergeant Wilhelm said.
"We wanted to make sure the students (between 14 and 19 years old) have a safe room to learn in," said Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Lara, an 819th RED HORSE Squadron structural craftsman. "But while structural integrity is important, so is having a good learning environment. I think we accomplished both with the renovations this week."
Operation Southern Partner afforded the two Airmen a chance to work hand-in-hand with and learn from their Chilean counterparts - accomplishing one of the main goals of the operation.
Before Operation Southern Partner began Oct. 26, Lt. Gen. Norm Seip, the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander said the operation is, "a tremendous opportunity for U.S. Airmen to work alongside partner nation Airmen -- learning from each other ... to increase the effectiveness of our Air Forces during future operations or natural disaster and humanitarian aid response. The goal is to provide expertise to host nation Air Forces on the flightline, in the backshop, on base and in the community while building and strengthening partnerships between professional Airmen."
Talking about the cultural exchange with the Chileans, Sergeant Wilhelm -- who has never been to South America before -- said he was surprised at how his assumptions about the region were wrong.
"I had this preconceived notion ... really no idea how the Chileans lived," he said. "That wasn't the case and I was surprised to find out that Chile is developed similar to the United States in regards to infrastructure."
For Sergeant Lara, who speaks fluent Spanish, Operation Southern Partner is his second opportunity to work in South America. He deployed to Grenada helping to construct a school there as part of U.S. Southern Command's New Horizon's project.
The difference between New Horizons and Operation Southern Partner however is in unit size. During New Horizons, Sergeant Lara deployed as part of a RED HORSE squadron. With Operation Southern Partner, it's just Sergeants Wilhelm and Lara.
"Professionally, this experience allowed me to learn firsthand the methods Chileans use to build and construct projects," Sergeant Lara said. "Personally, I'm speechless and was overwhelmed with how the Chileans welcomed us. Everyone is just friendly and outgoing towards us.
"That alone shows how grateful the Chileans are for having us here," he said.
Sergeant Wilhelm echoed those sentiments and added, "This is a wonderful opportunity because we can take the RED HORSE construction skills to South America and show our Chilean counterparts our skill sets. We show them that we get out into the communities and have positive impacts on their lives as well."
Operation Southern Partner continues in other South American countries including Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina through Nov. 7.