TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Engineers from various squadrons of the 103rd Airlift Wing worked on building homes for disabled Cherokee veterans, here, June 26 – July 7, 2023.
The work was done as part of the multi-year rotational project known as the Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative which provided real-world training for the airmen and will see a total of 21 houses built by the project’s completion.
Air Force Master Sgt. Jon Delaney, the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron’s Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force manager, said most of the Airmen on the mission have non-engineering civilian careers and those who do don’t typically work on new construction so the project was an excellent opportunity for the airmen to put their trade skills to use, especially those they don’t get to use on a regular basis during normal drill days and annual training.
But even for the Airmen who serve in an Active Guard and Reserve status, this mission was an opportunity to refresh their skills they’d learned in their Tech School.
“It feels pretty good [going back to the basics],” said Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Cooper, a full-time HVAC/R specialist with the ACS out of Orange, Connecticut. “The 103rd Air Control Squadron is a tactical military unit, so all our equipment is rapid deployable, I’m deployable, and this is outside of the scope of what I normally do.”
Cooper also said most of his day-to-day work at the ACS revolves around maintenance of the building’s HVAC systems to make sure the server rooms, which as mission critical for the unit, receive proper airflow and temperatures don’t get too high.
During the unit’s two weeks on the worksite, the airmen oversaw just about every aspect of the construction project, from framing walls and hanging sheetrock to running electrical lines and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ductwork. They were also working on multiple houses at once; while one team was erecting the framework of one home, others were running wire, plumbing, and ductwork in the shell of another built by the previous rotation.
While there was a clear consensus that the Airmen appreciated the quality of training they received, it was also evident that the mission’s purpose was of an even greater value.
Cooper said the National Guard has a unique responsibility to serve the community, state, and country and, while most of those missions come in the form of storm response or other domestic emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic, being a part of something like this – which brings together agencies from the state and nation – to honor the service and sacrifice by of these veterans was very rewarding.
The Cherokee Veterans Housing initiative is a collaboration between the Defense Department's Innovative Readiness Training program and the Cherokee Nation that constructs new single-family homes and supporting infrastructure for eligible Cherokee Nation veterans and their families.
Innovative Readiness Training is a collaborative program that leverages military contributions and community resources to multiply value and cost savings for participants. Communities typically provide materials and basic services (e.g. facilities), while military units contribute personnel and training resources. IRT missions produce mission ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.