JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron responded with lightning speed after the call came late on a Friday afternoon in mid-May to establish an emergency shelter to house up to nearly 1,200 unaccompanied alien children at a Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland facility.
In less than 24 hours, the 502nd CES notified the Department of Health and Human Services that the Recruit Housing and Training facility to serve as the shelter was ready to accept children after the May 16 call. The first children arrived May 18.
"We knew it was coming but we couldn't start until we got the actual 'go,'" said John Heye, JBSA-Lackland deputy base civil engineer.
Heye said prior to the May 16 notification, the 502nd CES assessed the former basic military training facility in anticipation of its use by DHHS. The building, constructed in 1969, had been vacated in November 2013 when the 321st Training Squadron relocated to Airman Training Complex No. 2.
"We had to resurrect the building if you will," Heye said. "It had been 'quiet' since BMT had moved out. Our crew really jumped on it. We had 15 to 20 personnel who worked the whole weekend. They did a lot of inspecting and repairing at the same time."
The prior building assessments and no need for major repairs, coupled with the experience of having prepared a similar shelter, albeit on a much smaller scale, for HHS two years ago, helped speed the readiness process along.
"The comprehensive work and monumental effort our 502nd CES professionals committed in preparing this facility to receive these children, with such short notice, further demonstrates the incredible capabilities and work ethic our engineers provide in support of Joint Base San Antonio 24/7/365!," said Brig. Gen. Bob LaBrutta, 502nd ABW and JBSA commander.
Repairs were made to the air conditioning system and hot water boilers along with operational checks on the electrical and fire alarm systems. Doors also had to be repaired for security and fire egress, a bee hive removed, debris cleaned up, furniture moved, an environmental assessment completed and a lease signed.
"We'd have done the same things regardless of who would have gone into the building," Heye said. "We are fortunate to have the dedicated and skilled craftsmen that made this effort go smooth so we could support their mission."