By 1st Lt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel, Joint Force Headquarters
/ Published June 10, 2021
Alaska Air National Guardsmen with the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron stand alongside Brig. Gen. Anthony Stratton, 176th Wing commander, as they near the end of their participation in the Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative in Tahlequah, Okla., May 27, 2021. The initiative is a collaboration between the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training program and the Cherokee Nation to build new single-family homes and supporting infrastructure for eligible Cherokee Nation veterans and their families. (U.S. Air National Guard photo)
Thirty-eight Airmen with the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing helped build homes for Cherokee veterans in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, May 15-29, as part of the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training program.
The Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative, a collaboration with the Cherokee Nation, is a joint service mission to construct new single-family homes and supporting infrastructure for eligible Cherokee Nation veterans and their families.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Keegan, senior enlisted leader for the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, said the 176th CES Guardsmen worked on four home sites while the 176th Force Support Squadron’s Services Flight served 3,355 meals during the 15-day training.
“We are taking back some residential building skills and much-needed concrete pour and finish experience,” Keegan said, who has completed two IRT missions. “We finished the rough framing and roofing for one entire house, dug and poured concrete footers for one home, and prepped and poured two home concrete foundations.”
In total, the Air Guardsmen dug 160 linear feet of trenches, placed 87 cubic yards of concrete, constructed 120 linear feet of rebar cage, framed more than 300 linear feet of timber walls, hung 4,200 square feet of plywood sheathing and installed nearly 1,700 square feet of asphalt shingle.
“All of this was accomplished while battling heavy rains and losing 36 hours of productivity,” Keegan said, who said true skill and determination shined with the Air National Guardsmen on the ground. “I might be biased, but I truly feel that our ANG civil engineers are top of the line.”
The IRT program provides hands-on, real-world training during the construction process, allowing joint military units an opportunity to improve their deployment readiness.
“It was an ideal training mission for the majority of shops in CE – with not only structures and heavy equipment shops having key components, but other trades like utilities, HVAC, power production and the fire department practicing, and training on their respective skill sets,” said Master Sgt. Ferdinand Torralba, the 176th CES Structures Shop noncommissioned officer in charge.
Torralba said cross-training among Air Force jobs was an important part of the training.
“The Services Flight familiarized other shops on kitchen duties and protocols – bolstering both collaboration and mission effectiveness,” he said. “Learning a bit from each trade helps each Airman bring back a great amount of AFSC (Air Force Specialty Codes) and construction knowledge.”
Torralba, who is a full-time electronics technician for the Federal Aviation Administration in his civilian capacity, said the construction goes hand-in-hand with Alaskans. “It’s very applicable to daily lives as homeowners, or working do-it-yourself and fixer-upper projects.”
Torralba said the Guard members were pleased to give back to a community beyond the squadron’s regular mission and to witness the direct impact of their efforts.
“In less than three to four years, a family will be residing in the homes we built for many years to come,” Torralba said. “Additionally, knowing it will be a disabled-veteran family provides a sense of honor as we are giving back to one of our fellow U.S. Armed Forces members for their service.”
Groundbreaking for the new housing addition took place in April. For the next three years, Guardsmen and Reservists from the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force from across the country will continue to build 21 new homes for Cherokee veterans.