127th CES Aids Humanitarian Effort

  • Published
  • By SrA. Anna-Marie Wyant
  • 127th Public Affairs
Leaving Michigan for Hawaii, travelers commonly have visions of sand, surfboards, and sunsets. When the 127th Civil Engineering Squadron departed Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., for the island of Oahu on April 20, 2009 for their two-week annual tour, they spent much time sanding, installing drywall boards, and waking up before sunrise. Their time was well spent.

On that trip, the 127th CES became part of something beyond their regular civil engineering jobs; their skills benefited Opportunities for the Retarded, Inc. (ORI) Anuenue Hale, a non-profit organization that provides relief and promotes the welfare of the elderly, the disabled, and the economically disadvantaged. While ORI Anuenue Hale supports a number of humanitarian programs in central Oahu, the 127th CES worked on the Aloha Gardens Project's handicapped accessible campground at the Helemano Plantation, which will provide revenue for the organization.

ORI's president and executive officer, Susanna Cheung, who moved to Hawaii from Hong Kong in 1961, treated the civil engineers to a multi-course meal, which was served with Chinese delicacies including chicken feet and jellyfish.

"I call it initiation," laughed Cheung as she showed pictures of 127th CES personnel hesitantly bringing pieces of chicken feet to their mouths. Although less than eager to consume the chicken feet, the engineers eagerly worked on cabins and other facilities on the campground for the duration of their tour. Cheung said she was impressed with the unit's commitment to supporting campground construction.

"The troops seemed diligent and focused on their tasks," Cheung said. She said she greatly appreciated their support because her organization could not afford the labor on its own, and the community needs the services that the Aloha Gardens Project will provide. 127th CES Commander Lt. Col. Stephen Ward was also pleased with the work accomplished.

"The dedication to mission accomplishment and the self sacrificing attitude of squadron members was outstanding," Ward said. While his unit would usually take off Saturday and Sunday between two regular work weeks, Ward's instead troops worked an additional half day for further progress on the project, which Ward said was well worth the time to help Cheung's humanitarian efforts. "The plantation is a wonderful concept, and Mrs. Cheung is an incredible lady in what she has done for the less fortunate people in Hawaii."

The 127th CES was the fifteenth Air National Guard unit to aid construction for the Aloha Gardens Project, which also embodies a an elderly wellness center and vocational training for the employees, many of whom are mentally handicapped, who work in food service, landscaping, housekeeping, and other services. Various units from the Air Force Reserves, Army Reserves and Army National Guard have also contributed to the project since 2006. In addition, active duty Army personnel stationed at Schofield Barracks--just a few miles away from the plantation--and their dependents have volunteered for various projects since the early 1980s.

Cheung founded ORI in 1980 focusing mainly on adults with developmental disabilities. ORI became ORI Anuenue Hale in 1993 and broadened its services to include others in need in the community. A petite woman, Cheung clearly has a big heart. When she decided to move to Hawaii to attend college, Cheung said she was mainly looking forward to the blue skies and warm weather. When she arrived, however, she found her true calling. She said when she first met mentally handicapped people in Hawaii, she wanted to open her heart to them.

"I fell in love with them," Cheung said. She said that at that time, there were no organizations to help the mentally handicapped become more independent. Cheung took it upon herself to change this, and more than three decades later, she has touched many lives and become incredibly successful in helping her community.

Development for the Aloha Gardens Project began in 1996, and with the help of the 127th CES and other units military-wide, the project is getting closer to completion and benefiting more people in need every year. The campground's anticipated completion is 2010, and Cheung is hopeful that she meets this goal. Ward, who was happy with the hands-on training his troops received and the positive impact they made, said he was grateful to have had the opportunity to help the Cheung and ORI Anuenue Hale.

"I would definitely recommend this training site to other civil engineering units," Ward said