Midnight Sun Guardian engineers build homes for Cherokee veterans as part of training

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
  • Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

Thirty-eight Alaska Air Guardsmen with the 176th Wing supported the Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, May 15 - 29, as part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program.

The Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative, a collaboration between the DoD’s IRT program and the Cherokee Nation, is a joint service mission that constructs 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, explained that during the 15-day training the 176th CES Guardsmen worked on four different home sites while the 176th Force Support Squadron’s Services Flight served 3,355 meals.

“We are taking back some residential building skills, and much needed concrete pour and finish experience,” said Keegan, 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 over 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,” said Keegan, 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.”

Keegan explained that not only was he impressed with his team’s performance, the Alaska Guardsmen received compliments from the Cherokee Nation for the quality of their work.

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 skillsets,” explained Master Sgt. Ferdinand Torralba, the 176th CES Structures Shop noncommissioned officer in charge, who said cross-training amongst the Air Force Specialty Codes, or jobs, was an important part of the training.

“Additionally, 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 and construction knowledge.”

Torralba, who is a full-time electronics technician for the Federal Aviation Administration in his civilian capacity, pointed out that construction goes hand-in-hand with Alaskans. “It’s very applicable to daily lives as home owners, or working do it yourself and fixer upper projects.”  

In addition to honing current and new skillsets, Torralba said the Guardsmen were pleased with being able 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,” said Torralba. “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.”

Keegan, who has worked deployed training events for about 10 years, added that, “the projects with the most meaning are the ones that give back to the community, and show a small token of gratitude towards our military veterans.”

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 work to build 21 new homes for Cherokee veterans.