18th CEG cements friendships building schoolhouse at Balikatan 22 Published March 22, 2022 By Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte 18th Wing Public Affairs KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S. Air Force engineers from the 18th Civil Engineer Group lay foundations and foster friendships with their counterparts from the 355th Aviation Engineering Wing of the Philippine Air Force, as they work together to build a multi-purpose classroom for Masi Elementary School in Rizal, Cagayan, Philippines before Exercise Balikatan fully kicks off. “It’s been a tradition for the 18th CEG to support Exercise Balikatan,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Austin Koch, 718th Civil Engineering Squadron executive officer. “Balikatan means ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ in Tagalog, and it is an absolutely fitting name for what our engineers are taking part in.” The humanitarian assistance and disaster relief aspect of Exercise Balikatan, which twenty 18th CEG Airmen participated in, provides direct support to local communities while allowing the opportunity for growth on an individual level between allies. In addition to making a positive impact on the village, engineers from both countries’ air forces are improving their processes as they work together. One way this is apparent is in the engineers’ construction methods as they build the schoolhouse from the ground up, explained Koch. According to an engineer from the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron, his experience participating in Exercise Balikatan exceeded all expectations. “The Philippine Air Force has taught me a lot about their way of construction, and I’m humbled to have the opportunity to build this school for the town of Masi alongside them,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Keegan McConihay, 18th CES structural journeyman. For many U.S. Air Force Airmen, this might be their first introduction to Filipino culture, and working alongside Philippine Air Force Airmen can improve interoperability and deepen friendships. “Every day we walk into work and we’re welcomed by the town,” said McConihay. “Everyone I’ve met here is happy and excited to watch us build this school for the community.” From Kadena Air Base to the Philippines, these 18th CEG engineers bring commitment and a unique innovative spirit to work alongside their Filipino allies, maintaining the long-standing partnership between the Philippines and the United States that’s built upon the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.