Air National Guard teaches Airman civilian trade

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Courtesy photo

California Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Jessica Abrego has a valuable skill set, which is an asset to her unit while paying dividends in her civilian career.

“I joined the Air National Guard because I had a rough childhood and it was my way to do something better for my future,” said Abrego.

Abrego, of the Riverside-based 163rd Civil Engineer Squadron, chose to be a heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) and refrigeration specialist. “I knew everyone had a refrigerator and a water heater, and if they didn’t have air conditioning they would want it,” she said. “I knew I’d always have a trade to fall back on. It has catapulted my career in the civilian sector.”

She works on anything that heats or cools water or air; everything from water heaters to cooling towers to freezers. Her Air Force specialty is key to maintaining constant functionality on Air Force and Air National Guard facilities.

In September, she returned home from Silver Flag, a training course held at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, where she trained alongside Air Force Reservists and active duty Airmen.

“The morale of our class was very high,” said Abrego. “We all worked hard, took care of one another and we didn’t have anyone complain. When work needed to be done, we did it. When it was time to be laid back and take a breather, we did that as well.”

During the six-day Silver Flag course, civil engineers, communications, force support and finance personnel learned how to build, maintain and operate a bare base. Students practiced a variety of combat and survival skills, such as repairing bomb-damaged runways and setting up base facilities. The students received expeditionary training, which gives their combatant commander a highly trained and skilled emergency response force.

The Silver Flag training course is required every 30 months for civil engineer Airmen to hone their emergency response force skills. The training provides the students with skills for overseas operations as well as stateside emergency disaster response.

During Silver Flag, Abrego’s team was responsible for ensuring that a Field Deployable Environmental Control unit and HVAC equipment were installed in the base’s dining facility, mortuary and sleeping tents. The team hooked up a refrigeration system to the mortuary and a water heater to the shower tent.

Additionally, her team worked on an airplane arresting system, a minimum operating strip (MOS) system and a runway arresting system, which are installed to catch planes when their brakes do not work or when there is airfield damage. They also trained on heavy construction equipment.

With her training at Silver Flag done, Abrego returned to her civilian job. She was one of only two HVAC controls project managers for the Carrier Corporation in San Diego before recently taking her current job as a project manager for a large solar panel company located five minutes from her house.

“I purchased a home earlier this year and remodeled my entire bathroom, to include demo, electrical, plumbing and tile work all by myself,” she said. “It was such an accomplishment, but I wouldn’t have known how to do any of it if it weren’t for the Air National Guard.”

Abrego served four years in the Hawaii ANG and the last six in the California ANG.

“I love working in the civil engineer squadron. We are all so diverse with different backgrounds,” she said. “I’m proud to be in the Air National Guard and I’m proud to be an Airman. (Although) my civilian job requires me to be behind a computer most of the time, being in the Air Guard has allowed me to stay proficient in my trade and allows me to teach others and guide them to success.”