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McGuire reservists bridge gaps, build homes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rachel L. Bernardes
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing
It's just after 7:30 a.m. in the town of Gallup, N. M. Already one can hear the banging of hammers, buzzing of tablesaws and clicking of nail guns. Inside a warehouse set aside historic Route 66 stands two nearly constructed homes and the frame of a third quickly nearing completion. Scurrying around the construction site with purpose and sense of urgency are members of McGuire's 514th Civil Engineering Squadron, working alongside several employees from the Southwest Indian Foundation.

This determined group was building homes for recipients of aid from SWIF. The 514th CES embarked on this mission, entitled Innovative Readiness Training, as part of their annual tour for 2006.

"[Some projects] are built to a different standard because it's not going to be permanent," said Maj. Matthew Bell. "Here you're building something and it's staying. It's actually benefiting the community."

SWIF and Air Force Reserve Command formed a partnership in March 2000. The Air Force Reserve soon began tasking civil engineering units with active-duty-for-training tours to aid in the construction of additional homes.

Twenty-nine reservists from McGuire participated in the Gallup tour, including a member from the 514th Aerospace Medicine Squadron tasked to handle medical needs, but who also contributed daily to the unit's construction tasks.

Another group of civil engineers from the McGuire unit worked on the project two weeks earlier. Together the two groups completed three homes and at least one of the homes was ready to be shipped to its respective location by the time their tours ended.

The homebuilding project itself was organized by SWIF in partnership with the Navajo Housing Authority. The NHA provides funding, while SWIF provides for some expenses, maintenance of equipment and facilities, and manpower. Last year the foundation built 20 homes. This year it is committed to completing 25 homes.

Initially, these groups had a relationship with the Air Force through the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. As part of their engineering program, academy cadets would build and take apart two homes per year. After contacts with SWIF and the NHA, the homes were later donated to these organizations for actual use.

This is the first time in five years that the 514th CES has participated in a project like the one in Gallup. Since 9/11, unit members had devoted their annual tours to exercises and inspections. Some of them, like Maj. Mike Matheis, said they looked forward to returning to Innovative Readiness Training tours.

"It [the tour] can focus on our skills without the additional mission with the wartime side of it," said the Maj. Mike Matheis.

Similar exercises can provide much of the same training, but some feel the outcome in such community-linked endeavors has a more positive impact on the unit.

"We're giving back to the American people," said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Leary, 514th CES first sergeant, who spoke of frequent American endeavors in support of other countries. "It's nice to be able to do something in our own country, too."

According to Albert Trieto, a SWIF employee, the engineering squadron made a significant contribution.

"The construction will slow down a bit without the military," he said, while giving a brief tour of Gallup and surrounding areas where these homes will be located.

Some sites seemed desolate and in need of good homes.

"It takes some very strong people to live over here ... Sometimes they don't even have (flooring) - just ground and dirt," Albert said. (AFRC News Service)