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NEWS | Feb. 26, 2013

Training program to enhance YMCA, Project Sanctuary

By Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer Colorado National Guard

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (2/26/13) -- Civil Engineers from several Air National Guard units around the country participated in a mission planning conference Jan. 30-31 at YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colo., to discuss new construction projects.

"The core of the project is Project Sanctuary, which is a 14,000-square-foot lodge that will be the focal point for troops coming back from overseas with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, or other issues," said Lt. Col. Thomas Niichel, program manager for the Innovative Readiness Program for Civil Engineering. 

"A number of the service members are light and sound sensitive, or have handicaps that make it difficult to use the existing facilities. These issues are addressed in the plans for the new lodge as well as providing more space for the families to be together," he said.

These projects will create opportunities for training in all of the skill sets of the National Guard Prime BEEF (prime Base Engineer Emergency Force) or RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) units participating in the project. 

The main purpose of the Innovative Readiness Training project for National Guard members is to ensure that when they deploy to do similar work, it won't be the first time they've done it. The lessons and training are real -- and so are the results, Niichel said.

The first civil engineering team to arrive will renovate two wings of the existing Kiva lodging facility. This will provide follow-on workers a place to stay at no cost while working on the camp, as well as leave the YMCA a renovated lodge for future use. 

Plans are also in place to build a family adventure park, an equipment storage building and shade shelters, as well as replace cabin decks, improve heating, venting and air conditioning systems, and complete other miscellaneous projects. 

Members of the 240th Civil Engineer Squadron (Prime BEEF), Colorado Air National Guard, met with YMCA of the Rockies staff in order to coordinate the construction efforts that are scheduled to begin in April. 
Truman Hoffmeister, center director for YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch, said he heard of the IRT program through Project Sanctuary. 

"They were growing beyond their space, so we looked into building them a larger, 16-bedroom facility," he said. "We were going to provide the land, maintenance and upkeep so that Project Sanctuary could build on our site, and they were going to raise the funds for the materials." 

However, after finding out about the IRT program -- getting free labor while the troops dually worked to maintain their training and skills, and all while serving military families in need of specialized services -- partnering with the National Guard just seemed like a really good fit, Hoffmeister said. 

By the end of this summer, this construction project will provide training for at least seven construction teams of 50 people each. The total construction project is scheduled for five years, which will provide training for many more units that might otherwise not have a chance to train on real-world projects. 

Units scheduled to work on the project in 2013 will be coming from locations as distant as the Virgin Islands, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and Mississippi. 

The coordination effort is ginormous when considering the logistics of bringing units in as far away as the Virgin Islands, let alone the other necessary equipment and materials, Niichel said, however it is a project that is well worth the effort.

"From my vantage point, I find that the IRT Program is that win-win because there are so many things that are absolutely heartfelt," said Niichel. "I see that with a number of the troops who participate in it, they give their all. They not only get training for their trades, but they also leave with the knowledge that they've done something positive. It's so much better than pushing a pile of dirt across a parking lot at their home unit. They can actually look back and say, 'There's a group of people who are benefitting from the effort that I've put forth,' and that makes it a win-win in my mind."

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