TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Under the blazing Oklahoma sun, the sounds of construction reverberate through a building site on Cherokee Nation land. Hammers, nail guns and electric saws are guided by the hands of National Guard members from across the country.
“The Innovative Readiness Exercise here at Cherokee Nation employs Airmen and Soldiers to practice their trade skill while also working with the local community members,” said Washington Air National Guard 2nd Lt. Cecil D’Souza, the officer in charge of the civil engineering mission. “Together, we enhance mission readiness and build partnerships with the local community.”
The Air and Army National Guardsmen work from April to August, building homes to be given to low-income or homeless military veterans of Cherokee Nation.
“It’s pretty cool to have a mission that gives back to the local community,” said Master Sgt. Tyler Hone, a power productions supervisor with 124th Civil Engineering Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. “We have a lot of hard-working guys here that volunteered to give back.”
The housing program is a three-year contract to build 21 houses. The furnishing and brick masonry are contracted out to local civilians and the civil engineers build the rest from the foundation up.
The teams train in their Air Force specialty code and military occupational specialty, then build on their skills with hands-on training.
“We’re all here learning so we can deploy and work jointly while knowing each role of our AFSC,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Wolfe, an engineering assistant with the 124th Civil Engineering Squadron. “The goal is for every Airman to be a Total Force Airman.”
While the sun is beating down through the house’s frame, the Airmen and Soldiers schlep wooden beams and construction through ankle-deep mud from the torrential rain just hours earlier.
“The rain is unpredictable here,” said D’Souza. “Things slow down and we make changes to the project schedule.”
The Guard members move inside when the rain starts and wait until the roofs and floorboards are no longer slick to begin work outside again. Their secondary mission is to complete the house’s interiors.
“Fortunately, we have a bunch of Airmen who also do construction in their civilian careers,” said Hone. “So they are very qualified and they help to teach and refresh other members on interior skills we don’t use every day.”
Hone said members were excited to train on a joint mission for veterans in need.
“I joined the Guard pretty late in life,” he said. “It just felt right to give back and serve. This mission is exactly what I signed up to do and hoped to do as an Air National Guardsman.”