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Friends from the north renovate Tucson's Air Guard base

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gabe Johnson
  • 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Air Guardsmen here are accustomed to helping partner nations improve their F-16 operations, but last month the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport received a helping hand from Canadian construction engineers who worked to improve the base infrastructure.

Having trained pilots from more than two dozen countries, different customs, cultures and uniforms are commonplace here, but for the first time, Canadian soldiers and airmen called the base home during a four-week exercise to complete engineering projects ranging from electrical to plumbing to heavy construction.

"The labor they provided saved us over $200,000," said Lt. Col. Carol Kenny, 162nd Civil Engineer Squadron commander. "The teams worked well together with our personnel and they seemed to accomplish a lot of the work pretty fast. They were able to accomplish eight separate construction projects all over the wing with several of them that were last-minute additions to their work load. They had a can-do attitude and we really enjoyed working with them."

The team of 77, a mixture of regular and reserve forces, traveled from Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta and Canadian Forces Base Comox in British Colombia. From March 4 through 31, they laid a block wall in front of the base dining facility for a new outdoor patio, renovated the headquarters squadron offices in building 1, and for several buildings they landscaped, refurbished bathrooms, mounted heating and cooling units, and installed backup generators to name a few.

They also brought with them firefighters and services specialists to participate in the exchange and train alongside Air Guard counterparts.

"We only have one gear... high speed. We're either on or off," said Lt. Paul Morillo, Royal Canadian Air Force construction engineer. "Here in Tucson, if we had the materials necessary to complete a job, we got it done. If we ran out of materials before the end of the exercise, we had to leave it incomplete. As long as we had the material, we did it."

Morillo and his fellow servicemembers, many of whom have served in Southwest Asia alongside U.S. forces, are familiar with unfamiliar territory. Their motto "Ubique," latin for "everywhere," alludes to their involvement in every conflict.

During their stay, the call "Chimo?" could be heard from the base dining facility - an Inuit phrase meaning, "Are you friendly?" The answer "Chimo!" in reply means, "I am friendly." It's a nod to native Canadian heritage, and a battle cry adopted by all Canadian engineers that refers to their expeditionary mission.

According to several engineers, Tucson was both friendly and a welcome change of environment.

"There's a foot of snow on ground in Cold Lake and it was minus 20 degrees there last week. I can golf here. I've been out for five rounds already," said Cpl. Jason Crann, a carpenter with the RCAF and a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. "Tucson was a great place to spend four weeks."

"The sun is nice. On Vancouver Island it feels like we're covered by clouds most of the year," said Cpl. Michel Miron, an electrician with the RCAF. "The procurement may be a bit faster here but there are a lot of similarities in the way we work and the way this base works. The best part is that the staff has been super friendly and the people here have been easy to work with."

"We've been participating in an ANG exchange program for years," said Crann. "I did one in Washington three years ago, and this summer we'll have a crew from U.S. visit us at Cold Lake. I'd definitely say we're 'Chimo.'"