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Vandenberg Airman abroad: Prime BEEF Squadron combines Air Force, Army engineers

ALI BASE, Iraq -- In today's joint operating environment, many service members from different military branches are unified to complete a mission.

The 467th Expeditionary Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force Squadron at Ali Base combines Air Force airmen and Army soldiers to build facilities and structures needed throughout the entire Iraq Joint Operations Area.

"I can take my Air Force assets, mix them with Army assets and get to whatever job that needs to be done across the IJOA in a relatively short amount of time," said Lt. Col. Larry Harris, 467th EPBS commander, who is deployed from Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. "There's no job we can't complete."

The 467th EPBS provides direct support to the Army's 20th Engineer Brigade. The 467th EPBS also controls the day-to-day operations of the Army's 389th Engineer Company. According to Harris, the 467th EPBS is the only Air Force engineering entity in the IJOA with full tactical control over an Army unit.

This unique, joint operation has created a successful foundation which members of each unit have grown from.

"We've learned valuable lessons placing our Air Force and Army engineers in the same buildings and shops giving them the same assets to do the job," said Harris, who is from Pinehurst, N.C.

"Once you take your blouse off, you really don't know who is Army or Air Force. It's just a bunch of engineers getting the job done."

Working as a team, each unit has its role in accomplishing the mission. The airmen, who primarily make up the facility engineering teams, are traditional engineers and specialists who complete initial surveys and design work. Once a plan is drawn up, the design is handed to the Army to complete the build.

"You learn a different culture working with the Army," said Master Sgt. Herman Ybarra, 467th EPBS water and fuel systems maintenance lead, deployed from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

"We've taught each other to buy into the process of a job and take charge of it. We're highly mobile experts in our career field and [what we're able to do] is really impressive."

Currently, the 467th EPBS has teams covering 18 different locations across Iraq performing duties such as developing base master plans, perimeter surveys, physical security upgrades and constructing living quarters.

"A lot of what we're doing is building new construction and that's an engineer's dream," Harris said. "Unfortunately, as the mission keeps changing we have to change the squadron."

Recent changes include providing assistance with equipment removal from the IJOA.

"We're moving nine years of stuff through Ali Base," said Master Sgt. Tracy Johnston, 467th EPBS facility engineer team non-commissioned officer in charge, who is deployed from Dover Air Force Base, Del. "It's incredible to see all the trucks loaded and heading out. It's really historic."

So far, there hasn't been a task the unit has failed to complete. Harris feels his team will continue to excel.

"When you put Air Force engineers, and their special skills together with a group of Army engineers who bring their everyday skills into the fight, you're talking about a real powerhouse team," Harris said. "When you find the right mixture, you're going to continue to build upon it and get the mission done."