17th AF Airmen travel to Tunisia to offer humanitarian assistance

by Staff Sgt. Stefanie Torres
17th Air Force Public Affairs

TUNIS, Tunisia –– Members of the U.S. military traveled to Tunisia Sept. 12 to 17 to work on six humanitarian assistance projects worth $1.8 million that will ultimately benefit the different communities in the most northern nation in Africa.

Working alongside the U.S. Embassy’s Humanitarian Assistance program and U.S. Africa Command, Air Forces Africa (17th Air Force) Airmen traveled to inspect two prior construction projects funded by the U.S. as well as award four more contracts for a drug rehabilitation center, a woman’s vocational center and to fix two orphanages that were damaged during the Tunisian revolution at the beginning of 2011.

“We have been working with the Tunisians on different projects for a few years now,” said Master Sgt. David Roux, 17th Air Force contracting officer. “It’s great to see the interest in the projects through the proposals we received from local construction companies. Also, being able to see the progress of the other two buildings coming together is definitely worth the trip.”

In 2010, U.S. Africa Command went to 17th Air Force to contract the construction of a school for the blind and an AIDS testing facility. This most recent visit allowed the contracting officials to perform building inspections on the nearly complete projects all the while giving them the opportunity to talk to locals about additional needs.

“We were told these projects would greatly benefit the country and we were happy to be involved,” Roux said. “They have been coming along nicely and we are hoping they will be of great benefit for them.”

Capt. Joseph Wierenga, a civil engineer who just came to the unit, spoke about his first trip to the continent and how looking at these facilities gives him a better perspective on the partnership between the U.S. and Tunisia.

“I have only been with 17th Air Force for a few weeks and it’s amazing to jump right in and see what kinds of things we are doing,” he said. “I have really enjoyed talking with the Tunisians and listening to what their perspectives are. I think we are able to learn from each other.”

However, building inspections were only a part of the visit. Two more contracts were awarded to build an extension of a drug rehabilitation center and a woman’s vocational center. The drug rehab center is the sole center in Tunisia that provides services to people from all over the world battling addiction, Roux said. The extension doubles the already 40-person facility, making it possible to treat patients more comfortably.

The building of a woman’s vocational center in Makthar was contracted out Sept. 15 with a special visit from the U.S. Ambassador Gordon Gray.

The ambassador stated he was pleased that this gift from the American people will contribute to training opportunities in the area and mentioned the importance of encouraging civil society organizations to assume a significant role in promoting development in disadvantaged parts of Tunisia.

According to an embassy press release, the U.S. has provided $500,000 for the construction to provide vocational training to the local rural population in that region.

This also brings special meaning for Roux, who has traveled to the area six times before.

“Working here has always been great,” he said. “I’m glad to see that together we are making a big difference for the country.”