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Robins Airmen partner with Armenia to renovate center for elderly

Staff Sgt. Aaron Nickell, a 461st Air Control Wing structural craftsman, helps an Armenian contractor install flooring in a newly renovated room at an institute for the elderly during a European Command Humanitarian Civic Assistance project in Yerevan, Armenia, May 22.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons)

Staff Sgt. Aaron Nickell, a 461st Air Control Wing structural craftsman, helps an Armenian contractor install flooring in a newly renovated room at an institute for the elderly during a European Command Humanitarian Civic Assistance project in Yerevan, Armenia, May 22.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons)

Tech. Sgt. Randy Daniels, right, with the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron, works with an Armenian plumber repairing pipes in the basement of an institution for the elderly during a humanitarian civic assistance project in Yerevan, Armenia, May 13. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons)

Tech. Sgt. Randy Daniels, right, with the 116th Civil Engineer Squadron, works with an Armenian plumber repairing pipes in the basement of an institution for the elderly during a humanitarian civic assistance project in Yerevan, Armenia, May 13. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --  Some folks will go out to the ends of the earth to help you out, and a group of Team JSTARS airmen did just that when they headed to Armenia to share a little brotherly love.

Airmen from the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing and a 461st Air Control Wing structural craftsman worked with Armenian contractors May 10 through 25 to renovate the residential wing of a home for the elderly in Yerevan.

The humanitarian mission consisted of improving the safety and living conditions of 12 residential suites with common areas at the Yerevan Elderly Institution No. 1.

The institution provides accommodation, food, clothes, health and psychological care to 236 residents who are either over 65 years of age, alone and unemployed, or are over 18 and need special care. 

The project, part of the European Command Humanitarian Civic Assistance program, afforded the opportunity for the airmen to complete essential skill-set training while providing skills, tools, resources and training to the Armenians.

"We were able to hone our skills and develop new ones for worldwide contingency operations and our domestic operations response at home," said Maj. Tasha Liscombe-Folds, 116th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy commander and lead project engineer for the mission. 

Overcoming challenges was a daily task for the civil engineers. While working side-by-side with Armenian contractors, they had to overcome the language barrier by communicating through a translator. There were also limited supplies and tools were either unfamiliar or scarce.

"Coming to the construction site and not having all the supplies or the same tools we're 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 there were challenges, the opportunity to build relationships, experience a foreign culture and help people in need was invaluable.

"It has been eye-opening; it's definitely different than American life," said 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.

"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."

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 institution 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," said Tafanelli. "You'll have something you can reflect back on knowing you've been able to have an impact on a community here in Armenia."