ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) — About 800 miles southwest of Guam lies a collection of small islands that make up the nation of Palau. With little contact to the outside world, approximately 18,000 residents live a life nearly untouched by time. Most Palauans live without running water and air conditioning, a considerable feat in a hot and humid climate.
Since 1970, service members from all branches of the U.S. military have deployed to Palau and participated in a civil action team to foster good relations, transfer technical skills to local apprentices and to provide relief from natural disasters.
Airmen from the 554th RED HORSE and 36th Civil Engineer squadrons, at Andersen Air Force Base, deployed to Palau earlier this year to repair infrastructure and introduce plumbing so residents can have access to fresh water. In addition, medical Airmen from around the Pacific theater deployed to improve the overall health of the Palauans.
The Airmen worked together with Palauan apprentices to implement running water into common facilities like schools, churches, and install air conditioning in other key buildings like one of the more popular medical clinics on the islands.
While the deployment can sometimes bring extra challenges, it can also bring rewards found nowhere else.
“The biggest challenge I have faced would be the language barrier on explaining techniques using plumbing technical terminology,” said Tech. Sgt. Branden Behee, a 554th RED HORSE water and fuels maintainer. “However, it has been rewarding to teach the local apprentices and watch their skills develop and grow when it comes to installing the plumbing for running water and making sure it works properly.”
In addition to RED HORSE Airmen, the people of Palau work hand-in-hand with 36th CES Airmen building roads, repairing dilapidated buildings and helping out anywhere else they are needed.
“Whether it’s helping out downtown at an event or providing assistance in the welding shop … we’re here to help,” said Airman 1st Class Lucian Root, a 36th CES structures journeyman.
Another key part to the mission is ensuring that Airmen and workers alike are healthy. Medical Airmen work all over the islands to make sure the residents are in good health so the progression can continue.
“First and foremost, my mission is to provide medical coverage for the civil action team Palau,” said Capt. Jeffrey Jarvis, a physician’s assistant deployed from the 18th Medical Group at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Once he is finished overseeing the CAT member’s health, he sees patients from across the islands at multiple clinics. In addition to seeing patients, Jarvis trains Palauan medical apprentices in combating non-communicable diseases.
As of October, the deployed Airmen purified more than 40,000 gallons of water, built a few roads around schools, and briefed local students on the importance of good health and nutrition. The Airmen hope to build more roads and improve more infrastructures before they leave the island, they said.