TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Engineers from various squadrons of the 103rd Airlift Wing worked on building homes for disabled Cherokee veterans June 26 – July 7.
The work is part of the multi-year rotational project known as the Cherokee Veterans Housing Initiative, which provides training for the Airmen and 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 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 regularly during drill days and annual training.
“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 ensure the server rooms, which are 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 almost 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 is uniquely responsible for serving the community. While most of those missions come in storm response or other domestic emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, being a part of something like this was very rewarding. They were honoring the service and sacrifice of these veterans.
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 supports 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 essential services, while military units contribute personnel and training resources. IRT missions produce mission-ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.