The raising of the flag and a fitting ceremony are all that remain for the 202nd Engineering Installation Squadron’s BRAC-directed transition to Robins Air Force Base.
The move itself has been executed. New buildings – at least new to them – are occupied. And the Georgia Air National Guard unit is up and running.
The 202nd’s move from Middle Georgia Regional Airport was one of 401 actions ordered by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
The transition has been bitter-sweet, concedes Lt. Col. Bill Lipko, the 202nd detachment commander. The squadron had occupied their airport facility since 1952.
“For record keeping purposes, we completed the move Sept. 1,” said Lipko. “But there is 59 years of accumulated stuff out there and we are still hauling things to (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) on base.”
The 202nd is occupying building 2078 at Robins, well-maintained quarters once used by the 116th Air Control Wing. They share vehicle maintenance facilities in building 2312 with the 116th while the cable and antenna shop is in a third location. The BRAC Commission allocated funds for reconfiguring building 2078 and for the purchase of new furniture. On balance, the change has been eye popping.
“It’s all very nice,” said Lipko. “We’re just running around with our mouths open. We feel like we’re in someone else’s house because it is way nicer than what we had.”
The new furniture is especially appreciated.
“It’s the first time in 25 years that we’ve gotten new furniture,” he said. “You can adapt to anything, including old steel desks. We were proud of them. But when you come into our offices now, it’s got what I call the new car smell.”
More than half of the 111-person squadron is deployed. The unique, highly-skilled contingent spends much of its time in isolated, often hostile locations setting up a vast array of fixed communications. The tasks run the gamut from fiber optic to copper cabling. They work towers, antenna, intrusion detection, surveillance systems, radio and satellite communications and airfield support. Many of their members come from the big telecommunications companies. Others have civilian jobs at Robins.
The 202nd has two taskings currently. One is a partial involuntary mobilization for Air Forces Central Command.
“We’re pretty much out of Iraq now,” Lipko indicated, “but we’re going into the Horn of Africa and all over Qatar and Afghanistan.”
Another group is fulfilling a request for forces from the U.S. Army.
“I have folks right now outside the wire at 11 forward operating bases in Afghanistan helping the Army put in fixed communications infrastructure,” he said.
The airmen left behind are generally those who have just joined the unit. Some have just returned from technical school. They have taken on most of the moving tasks.
“They have been working their tails off to set us up in the new facilities,” the commander pointed out.
Part of the effort has involved relocating the unit’s own telecommunications equipment, including installation of a closed-circuit television intrusion detection system. It’s been good training for the newer airmen, Lipko noted.
“One young man came to me the other day and said he was learning so much from getting to do this from the ground up,” he said.
Vacating the airport location was emotional.
“We loved it dearly like the family home,” Lipko explained. “It’s all many of our people have ever known. We were very attached to it. But it was old. We stirred up so much dust and mold that half of our kids have some sinus problems going on. We found black mold in back of things we took off the wall. But these kids are walking around in amazement after they saw the new facilities.”
Virtually all of the deployed airmen will be home by January. The unit training assembly that month will feature formal unit recognition of the move.
“We will run the flag up the new flagpole that Saturday morning,” Lipko said. “Then we will do a brief dedication ceremony and welcome everyone to their new home.”