DVIDS – News – 85th Engineering Installation Squadron preserves 70-year legacy of Engineering Installation community
In a heartfelt unveiling, described as “decades in the making”, streamed live for worldwide viewers, 85th Engineering and Installation Squadron members pridefully organized a heritage wall dedication ceremony Jan. 20, 2023 at the 85th Engineering Installation Squadron Compound at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss.
The passion and pride for the Engineering and Installation community is preserved though the oral history, thousands of photographs and stories for decades to come so that servicemembers, DoD partners and families will have the unique experience to peer into the “With Pride, Worldwide”, engineering installation legacy that they are now a part of.
While, the heritage wall was decades in the making, the revival of the project was brought to life by then, 85th Engineering Installation Squadron commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Whitney Walker.
“I distinctly remember my first visit to the basement in 2021 and walking up to piles of photos, newspaper clippings, awards, unit guidons, etcetera and thinking how awesome it would be for these items to be visible for members in the unit,” said Walker.
“For an organization that has “With Pride” in its motto, these heritage items needed to be displayed proudly. As I started socializing this idea, I had multiple people tell me they wanted to do this for many years.”
Walker knew in order to make a true heritage wall that he would need to solicit the Engineering and Installation community to provide photos and memories from their time at the unit.
As Walker dug deeper to bring this vision to life he found that there were multiple Engineering Installation alumni Facebook pages and it’s legacy units. He made a post on the main Engineering and Installation page that resulted in over 100 photo submissions and over 130 comments.
“It just shows how much people from the Engineering and Installation community were interested in this effort,” said Walker.
Walker initiated the project and saw it gain traction over the course of his tenure in command as competing priorities drew out the historical collection process.
“We got a new lieutenant in the fall of 2021, 1st Lieutenant Matt Entner, and I gave him the project to run with,” said Walker.
“He designed the hallway, worked up some ideas for the decade plaques and unit milestone plaques, worked out a color scheme and then we funded it.”
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Hunter Cantrell, cyber operations project engineer for the Squadron was responsible for taking the torch from Entner to see the project through.
“First Lieutenant Entner actually did a lot of the planning with Lt. Col. Walker a while ago before I ever arrived at the unit,” said Cantrell. “He and the commander made a quick computer-aided design sketch of the hallway and drafted the plan for what’s on the wall today.”
Lt. Col. Walker planned the dedication ceremony and we had hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings in in our basement we used to make a lot of the collages, said Cantrell.
The event chronicled almost 70 years of Engineering Installation heritage dating back to 1958 when the Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency (GEEIA) was established through the community’s transition to the 1839th in the 70s and 80s, the 738th in the mid-90s, and the transition to the 85th.
Along with the thousands of contributions of past and present unit members, Walker invited six former commanders to speak during the dedication ceremony.
“My favorite part of the event was hearing about all the places and challenges the unit had under previous commanders and what they did to innovate and overcome them,” added Cantrell, an Expeditionary Communications officer.
“I hope as future Airmen walk the hall they understand and appreciate all those who have came before them and laid the foundation for who we are today and the kind of work we do. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without our senior civilian Mr. Fred Blache who helped us identify a lot of timeframes in the photos and newspaper clippings since he’s been here since ethe 80s.”
Frederick Blache started at the unit in the beginning of 1986 when the unit was the 1839th Engineering Installation Group after graduating with an degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Orleans.
“As the senior civilian, the oldest and the person who’s been here the longest, I went through all the written history that was left by my predecessors and compiled it,” said Frederick Blache, technical advisor for the 85th Engineering Installation Squadron.
“I also passed on the stories the legends from the past told. I tried my best to chronologize all the stuff we dug up from the basement and that was contributed.”
For Blache, now a career civil servant, the heritage wall drummed up a lot of his cherished memories and served as a capstone to his projected retirement at the end of the year.
“I might show up more than anyone on the wall although I’d have to point out my young self,” said Blache. “Since I’m retiring at the end of this year it was a perfect way for me to reminisce about the people I’ve known, places we’ve been and all the changes we continue to go through.”
The wall is the epitome of esprit-de-corps and shows our Airman the significance and how we live our unit’s living our motto “World Wide with Pride” and the USAF’s motto “Aim High … Fly-Fight-Win”, Blache added.
The Squadron’s Chief of Plans and Programs, James Snell, arrived as a Senior Airman in January 1999 when it was the 738th Engineering Installation Squadron and was assigned to the Meteorological Navigation Section.
“This organization was very heavy in its heritage when I first arrived here in 1999 and is inherently what drove me to love this organization’s mission,” said Snell. “It was the people of the present and the past that made this organization special.”
Snell was the team chief nominee, created the Quality Assurance office, then became the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Project management where he retired from active duty as a Master Sergeant in 2013.
“I have filled a majority of the roles within this organization at some point in my career here. I was hired as Chief of Plans and Programs in August of 2015 and here I am,” said Snell. “The EI heritage has been lost over the years and this dedication seems to have brought back that piece of history we were missing.”
This organization is not just a job, for some it’s a way of life and I am grateful to have been a part of it and its heritage, Snell added.
Like, Snell, Tommy Troutman, Chief of Project Engineering joined the unit as an Airman. Trout arrived to the unit when it was the 1839 EIG in January of 1995 as a young Staff Sergeant.
During his time at the unit he has been a witness to several redesignations of the Squadron to include 1839 EIG, 1839 EIS and 738 EIS. He also recalled that when he arrived the unit fell under the Air Force Mobility Command, then the Air Combat Command, followed by the Air Force Space Command then back to the Air Combat Command.
“As the only active duty EI squadron remaining per Program Action Directive 98-1, we are still carrying the traditions of the EI Engineers, Team Chiefs and Installers that came before us,” said Troutman.
“EI is a way of life, many come to love it and others endure it until their next assignment. There is a great sense of job satisfaction when you can leave the [temporary duty station] or deployed location having install a new capability the base did not have before.”
Troutman’s assignments at unit included antenna installer, cable/antenna team chief, Commander Action Group, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Cable/Antenna and noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Plans Program and Readiness. Trout retired as a Master Sergeant with 26 years of service in 2010.
While on terminal leave he was hired back as government service employee as Chief of Plans Program and Readiness until 2015. Afterwards, he took a lateral move and became Chief of Project Engineering to present.
“Knowing the work my team and I had accomplish would save lives filled me
with enormous amount of pride in my unit and team,” said Troutman.
“My pinnacle project was installing a 320-foot communications tower in Iraq–tallest in the country at that time– to give our convoys traveling between Kuwait and Bagdad radio coverage in case of attack.”
Like Snell and Blache the heritage wall is a symbol of all of the unit’s accomplishments and the servicemembers he worked with to achieve them.
“Many of those tasks—temporary duty and deployments around the world–made an impact on world events,” said Troutman. “As I come to the end of almost 40 years in and around the EI community, I can only wish the young officers, enlisted and civilians that walk through the doors of Maltby Hall realize the 85 EIS adventure waiting for them.”
The day of the ceremony, the halls flooded with smiles, stories old and new as 85th Engineering Installation encapsulated their legacy on the heritage wall.
“Ultimately, this ceremony and heritage wall is for the former members in the unit,” said Walker.
“The sacrifices they made enabled countless events around the world–many they probably never even knew they were supporting.”
For Walker, seeing the former member light up when they walked down the hallway will be a moment he always remembers.
“I’ve known the 85th was a special unit from the day I took command and seeing how important this event was for the community just reiterated how tight knit the EI community is and how important the mission is/was to current and former members.”
Walker hopes the wall continues to grow through submissions and additions for years to come.
“I’m proud of the project we put together,” Walker said.
“This was truly an opportunity for us to epitomize the unit’s motto “With Pride, Worldwide!”
|Date Posted:||02.16.2023 21:52|
|Location:||KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MS, US|
This work, 85th Engineering Installation Squadron preserves 70-year legacy of Engineering Installation community, by Nadine Wiley De Moura, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.
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