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Joining the Air Force at 17, structures engineer now spends his time building schools in Belize

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kurt Figueroa, a structural engineer from the 820th RED HORSE Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, measures the roof at a preschool construction site in Hattieville, Belize, May 15, 2014.  Figueroa is on a deployment to Belize participating in the U.S. Southern-command sponsored New Horizons exercise. (USAF photo by Master Sgt. Kelly Ogden/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kurt Figueroa, a structural engineer from the 820th RED HORSE Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, measures the roof at a preschool construction site in Hattieville, Belize, May 15, 2014. Figueroa is on a deployment to Belize participating in the U.S. Southern-command sponsored New Horizons exercise. (USAF photo by Master Sgt. Kelly Ogden/Released)

HATTIEVILLE, Belieze -- He was just 17 years old when his mother signed the papers for him to enlist in the Air Force.

Deciding to join the military for educational benefits and to serve his country, he never thought of having a career in construction but the Air Force had plans for him.

And now seven years later, Staff Sgt. Kurt Figueroa, a structural engineer from the 820th RED HORSE Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, is on a deployment to Belize participating in the U.S. Southern-command sponsored New Horizons exercise.

Though his current deployment is very different than his first deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was facing outside the wire dangers to go to remote areas to assist Soldiers with constructing tents and buildings, he's still excited and up for the challenge.

During this USSOUTHCOM exercise, Figuero and his RED HORSE teammates and fellow service members from the Army and the Marines have a very different mission. They are working side by side with soldiers from the Belize Defence Force to build a preschool addition for the government school in Hattieville, Belize.

The sergeant is motivated by hard work but also enjoys the humanitarian aspect of this training exercise. Building a new preschool for the children of Hattieville, Belize, gives him a lot of pride.

"It should be great for the children," Figueroa said. "There will be a kitchen, bathrooms and flooding shouldn't be a problem anymore either."

Figueroa, who is also the safety representative for site, is charged with building the structure from the ground-up.

One of the mission objectives here is to train engineers how to operate in austere environments, pushing them to think outside of the box to complete the mission when some of the tools, machinery and supplies they are used to having readily accessible are unavailable.

Figueroa is expanding his carpentry skills by learning from the Belize Defence Force engineers who are working with him on the project.

"Before this deployment, I didn't do a lot of block work, didn't know how to put up a metal roof and didn't know anything about parging," he said.

With the project nearing completion, the sergeant takes time out to reflect on what keeps him motivated and mentally focused. Much of it he says goes back to his childhood and the work ethic that he learned from his mother, Carleen Klevanosky, Las Vegas, Nevada.

"My mom raised three children as a single mother and had a good work ethic," he said. "Seeing her provide support for all of her children... it's helped me in the military."

Figueroa spends his off time hunting, sport shooting and snowboarding. He also enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Olivia.


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