CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
This week, I took a different approach to highlighting a unit. Instead of coming in, getting my interviews and photos, then getting out and making my story, I reported for work. Not my job, but theirs. They’re the pavement and equipment specialists of the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron. Many of you know them as “dirt boyz.”
My time with them started with morning PT, or physical training. It began with a huddle around the unit’s leadership. The atmosphere was different for the fact the day was September 11. The commander started the huddle with a solemn moment of silence for those who were, or even weren’t, old enough to reflect on what occurred that day. The commander eventually broke the silence with a question:
“How many of you hadn’t reached first grade before 9/11?”
A few hands lifted above the crowd of heads. This was a unit filled with experienced and inexperienced Airmen, those who’ve put on the uniform before 9/11 and those who had yet to put on a school bookbag by then.
The 27 SOCES is filled with a diverse group of Airmen from around the world, each carrying their own stories written over years of experiences. All this was what I realized by the end of the morning group meeting. It kept me excited to learn more about what these talented Airmen are capable of.
I was embedded with two Airmen later in the morning tasked with filling in some sinkholes around base. It was the first of many work orders handed to us to complete. My first thought when we got the hole was “ah, well let’s just dig some dirt up and fill it!” In reality, it takes digging around the hole, leveling it and, essentially, maintaining the standard of beautification set across the base.
Once we spent a while to complete the first task, we drove to the next site and I began spotting so many of those patches where CES Airmen had to fill in. You know that moment after buying a car that you begin to see your exact car model almost everywhere around you? That’s what it felt like. I didn’t really begin to appreciate their work until I started doing their job firsthand.
What impressed me the most about their job is the sheer variety of tasks that one Airman must remain flexible to complete. Dirt sinkholes, road potholes, concrete construction, welding, snow removal. There are many jobs that I had just assumed had belonged to a specific group of Airmen whose specialty was just one of those tasks. In reality, every dirt boy must be able to complete all of these tasks. And many times, they’ll do it all in one work day.
I only had spent two days embedded with this talented unit. I cannot possibly be able to detail the intricacies of their day-to-day work, and it wouldn’t be right to say after just two days of labor, I can act like I know their job knowledge. One thing I did learn, however, was that we cannot take each other’s jobs for granted. Whether we’re frustrated that a road is blocked for construction that that makes us take the long way to our shop or annoyed about potholes are seemingly invading our roads, the workload some shops have are just outright heavier than others.
We’re all working in a shop that supports the giant mission of providing air power on a variety of platforms. These 27 CES “dirt boyz” are literally establishing these platforms. Their shop is another vital cog in the base machine that ensures our Air Force remains as the greatest, most powerful on this planet. One hole in the dirt to the next, one hazardous road to the following one.