TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Oklahoma National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are building homes and treating patients in health clinics in Eastern Oklahoma.
They are helping fellow Oklahomans thanks partly to the Innovative Readiness Training program – a Department of Defense initiative.
While Soldiers of the 2120th Engineer Company, 120th Engineer Battalion, 90th Troop Command, are in Tahlequah building homes as part of the Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative, the battalion also has medics and medical providers from the 120th Medical Company (Area Support) working with clinics and first responders in Tahlequah and Tulsa.
“Joint projects between the Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma National Guard, and other military units from around the country are examples of true government-to-government collaboration and the benefits it can provide not only to our tribal nation but to the men and women of participating military units who will gain first-hand experience in areas such as engineering and health care,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.
“Perhaps more importantly, these projects will instill in participants a better understanding of what it means to serve others, whether they are building houses for Cherokee veterans or helping improve the health and well-being of Native American patients who use the Cherokee Nation Health System, “Hoskin said.
More than 20 Soldiers of the 2120th are working alongside Airmen from the Utah National Guard and Airmen from the Idaho National Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing, making a joint force of more than 50 Army and Air National Guard engineers.
The Oklahoma National Guard engineers are helping build seven homes this summer as part of a three-year mission, said 2nd Lt. Cecil D’Souza, a member of the Washington Air National Guard and the project manager for the Cherokee Nation housing initiative.
D’Souza described the IRT program as one that gives many military members a chance to do their jobs while building relationships with other organizations.
“The IRT party’s main intent is to build partnerships at our local communities. In turn, we get the hands-on training that we require in order to be mission-ready,” said D’Souza. “The amount of homes that we’re building on here, last year we built seven, this year we are building seven and next year was allotted for another seven. So that’s a total of 21 homes that we’re going to build.”
The executive officer for the 2120th Engineer Company, 1st Lt. Addam Orsburn, said Soldiers learn from each other while giving back to their local community.
“Our Soldiers over the last few years have done a lot of state active-duty missions typically because of a natural disaster, and those things are great and the state knows us for that,” Orsburn said. “However, being able to work with the Cherokee Nation away from a natural disaster really gets Soldiers involved in their community on a deeper level, and not just because something bad happened, but because we actually want to engage with our community to do things for them.”
Sgt. Austin Brown, with the 2120th Engineer Company, helped with this housing project last year and is back for a second year.
“It just gives me joy to help people and just be out here and ready to go if anybody needs anything,” Brown said. “It’s just a joy for me to be out here.”
Soldiers from the 120th MCAS are also working with Airmen from the 157th Medical Group at local health clinics.
Maj. Nathan Bowen, 120th MCAS, said they are getting good hands-on training for their jobs while helping Tahlequah citizens.
“Everyone’s been super positive,” Bowen said. “Everyone’s looking for opportunities to grow and learn, and the best thing is that we’re learning new things and we’re learning how to work together.”