Chief Master Sgt. Luis Ayala

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - May 17, 2006
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Chief Master Sgt. Luis Ayala
Chief Master Sgt. Luis Ayala

Thanks to an innovative U.S. military program, a group of New Mexico Airmen and women are rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help build an elder daycare center in Central Oahu.

The project is the ORI Anuenue Hale’s Aloha Gardens Project, an outgrowth from Helemano Plantation , which is located next door. It will serve the elderly, persons with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged on the North Shore and Central Oahu, and provides respite care for the elderly.

It was chosen as an Innovative Readiness Training project for the U.S. Air Force.

“These units have worked with me on other projects,” explains Chief Master Sgt. Luis S. Ayala (above, second from right). He notes that other recent projects were in Gallup, N.M., Red Lakes, Wis., and Romania.

“We have been blessed to travel all over the world meeting different people,” says Ayala, who serves as chief of operations for his unit. “We can learn from each other.”

With each team consisting of about 30 people coming in for two weeks at a time, three civil engineer squadrons have come in to help out, and may overlap for one weekend. Their goal is to build three residential homes and a social hall.

Ayala has been in Hawaii since the project began in April, and he’ll be here until its expected completion in June.

Senior Airman Leigh Owens (second from left) of the 908 Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, says, “It’s a very good cause, and it’s a good learning experience for me.”

The Montgomery, Ala., native, a first-timer to Hawaii, poured concrete for the social center. When she isn’t handling personnel for the Air Force, her main civilian job is as a radiologist.

Master Sgt. Bob Brettin (far left) , who is with the same unit, admits that while it’s been great, there have been challenges.

“When we were pouring the concrete, rain showers came through,” says Brettin, an Atlanta native. But, he says, his reward is working with people from Helemano Plantation.

Other units helping out with this project are members of the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron from McConnell AFB in Kansas and the 302nd Squad from Petersen AFB in Colorado. Retired Chief Master Sgt. Ray Thigpen (far right), who owns a concrete contracting company in Alabama, also added his experience to the job to help the volunteers finish the work.

Says ORI/Helemano founder Susanna Cheung: “We could not do it without them.”

- Linda Dela Cruz

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