On November 27, 2020, a tragedy struck the U.S. Air Force’s 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron when Capt. (Dr.) Kelliann Leli, 30, was killed in a non-combat related vehicle incident on Al Dhafra Air Base (ADAB), United Arab Emirates.
Leli was a U.S. Air Force doctor deployed to UAE in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
In an effort to prevent further tragedies involving vehicles and pedestrians, the base leadership ordered that high traveled pedestrian areas without sidewalks shall now have sidewalks.
“Last year, we lost an Airman in a tragic vehicle-related accident. In response, ADAB leadership examined traffic safety for our large number of pedestrians,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew Clark, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Commander. “The leadership contacted the Theater Engineer Brigade and initiated a massive effort to build a network of sidewalks, install bollards and barriers, and improve safety in our community.”
Although the origin of this project was caused by a very tragic incident, Soldiers from the 424th Engineer Company, 111th Theater Engineer Brigade, were honored that they were able to take on the project and do their part in ensuring another accident like this does not occur.
“The team that is working on this project feels good knowing that the project is going to make a difference,” said Army Staff Sgt. David Griffin, the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the project. “We are hopeful that the work we are doing will improve the pedestrian safety on the base and avoid any injuries or loss of life in the future for the base occupants.”
The construction for the sidewalks began in March, 2021 and is set to be completed in the coming weeks. The team working on this project consists of 11 Soldiers from the 424th. Although the 424th Soldiers are responsible for the installation of the sidewalks, they have also had the opportunity to work with service members from the U.S. Air Force currently stationed at Al Dhafra.
“The team members have all been working well together,” said Griffin. “Everyone has found a role that fits them well which has definitely helped the project move along smoothly.”
The service members assigned to this project have completed 5,200 feet of sidewalk so far, out of the planned total of 6,000 feet. As the final 800 feet of construction is being wrapped up, Clark realizes the importance of this project being completed.
“Our people are our greatest asset and it is imperative we keep them safe,” said Clark. “Accidents happen of course, but seeing traffic safety improvements across the base is very reassuring. We consistently strive to provide a safe and healthy environment for all ADAB-assigned members.”
Clark believes that this project will pay off and that this extra measure of safety will be well worth it.
“Safety is always high on my priority list,” said Clark. “However, we must accept certain calculated risks as combat warfighters, but we aggressively mitigate risk and improve safety where and whenever possible.”
As with any project, there are going to be challenges. One of the largest challenges that the Soldiers of the 424th have been faced with is the summer weather in the UAE.
The recent average temperatures have soared over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with nearly 60% humidity.
Griffin said that although the current weather condition is not an ideal environment to work in, he is impressed with the team for staying focused and executing the mission successfully, despite other challenges as well.
“We have also faced challenges with the planning process,” said Griffin. “With Al Dhafra Air Base being a fairly busy and active base, we have had to work to ensure that the sidewalk construction is not blocking any access points that units may need to enter certain parts of the base.”
Clark recognizes the challenges these service members are faced with but echoes the sentiment that the team is doing well and he is extremely grateful for them.
“I recognize and truly appreciate the countless hours of hard work in extreme heat required to complete the traffic-safety construction project,” said Clark. “If we avoid even one incident in the future, it was worth the effort.”