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Through the Lens: Civil Engineering in Latvia

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Allyson L Manners
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing
My recent Deployment for Training to Latvia with the 171 Air Refueling Wing Civil Engineer Squadron was eye-opening, at the very least.

It was my first time overseas, first time working one-on-one with another squadron and my first time actually doing the job the military has trained me to do.
I won't deny that I was a bit intimidated when asked to document such an important task- United States and Latvian military members working with Latvian civilians to build a better home for children at the Naujene Orphanage in Latvia.

As soon as I set foot on the job site, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Every morning, I took photos of rooms inside the house and compared them with the day before, and that gave me a good look at exactly how much work had been accomplished each day. For the rest of the day, I walked around the site and tried to capture a little bit of each project that was going on.

Everyone back home was excited to see what their family members and coworkers were doing in Latvia, so I tried to keep them updated through Facebook. Positive response was overwhelming. Some people seemed excited and surprised to learn that the United States military works on humanitarian projects.

Whenever I told someone from the 171st where I was going and what I was doing, they would always reply with envy, "I wish I could go! You'll have a great time." They were right. Now that I'm home, everyone wants to see photos from the trip and learn more about Latvia.

Working at the job site as a photographer allowed me to view the relationships built in Latvia through a different eye than most. I can see the progression of the
friendships made in my photos.

On our first day at the job site, everyone just shook hands and went straight to work. By our last day, I had taken a photo of an airman holding back tears as she said goodbye to a Latvian soldier that had become her friend.

Seeing the kids playing outside was always a special treat. The smaller children would run to us whenever we came to see them, and they always wanted to play and be held. Countless times I heard airmen say, "I just wish you could come home with me." 

Our last week there, some of the teenage boys came to play volleyball with us during our lunch hour.  They fit right in, playing their best as the airmen cheered them on. They gave us all bouquets of flowers they had picked as a parting gift.

Many of us from this DFT wish we could be there to see the end result of the project, and the kids' faces as they get to see their new home.

As a photographer, you're always looking for emotions or actions that will give your photo life. There's no doubt that this project afforded me an amazing opportunity. I would volunteer to go back to Latvia in a heartbeat, and I know I'm not the only one.
I shouldn't have been worried about the task of taking photos that tell a story about our time in Latvia. Together we made renovations to a building at the Naujene Orphanage, and we made memories and friendships that are bound to last a lifetime, and I was blessed enough to be able to capture those moments.

Telling the story was easy. Goodbye was the hard part.