Serving Humanity, One Batch of Concrete at a Time, by John Bender
The purpose of the Military is to serve and protect America. Innovative Readiness Training — through which we hone our skills while helping communities in the United States — is one of the more creative ways in which we serve. Through this program, a group from the Civil Engineering Squadron of Rhode Island's 143rd Airlift Wing was deployed to Guam, a U.S. Territory, to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Five Air National Guard units from across the United States were sent out in a phased approach to build two homes from the ground up for families in need. The first home was for a single mother of four who works at Anderson Air Force Base. Her family had recently lost their home in a fire and were living in a shipping container without running water. The second home was for a family of six whose father is a local firefighter. The Rhode Island unit was the final group to work on the project.
A LESSON IN GEOGRAPHY AND HOUSE BUILDING
Spin a globe and stop on Japan. Pull out a magnifying glass and look below Japan near the equator until you find Guam. Due to the tropical climate, houses in Guam are different from those on the mainland. Buildings need to be able to withstand the storms, typhoons, and high humidity native to this region. Houses are primarily made of concrete, so concrete became a key component of our lives for the 2½ weeks the unit was in Guam.
We have a number of craftsmen in our unit — plumbers, electricians, construction managers, carpenters —and they brought expertise to the project so that multiple groups could be trained to tackle the full range of tasks. Thanks to cross-training, we rotated in and out of assignments as needed. When I wasn't mixing concrete, for example, I might assist the plumbing crew with drain line repair. Plumbers worked side by side with sheet wall framers, who were working around the electrical crew, who in turn were making way for the heavy equipment leveling the existing land.
THE ISLAND VERSUS THE MAINLAND
Guam is worlds away from what the average American knows. Timewise, Guam is 14 hours ahead of Ohio, so, practically speaking, while most of you were sound asleep, we were working under an afternoon sun. We put in 10hour days in 90⁰ weather with humidity near 100%. Island soil is thick red clay that adheres to everything. Instead of the cats and dogs typically found on the mainland, Guam is home to a large number of free-range hens and roosters who roam the island at will. Break times were memorable, as we would climb the nearest trees and knock down coconuts and starfruit for snacks.
By the end of our deployment, my unit had planed the house walls and ceilings with thinset mortar, finished the concrete interior, completed the plumbing and electrical work, reframed and installed windows, leveled the existing landscape to prevent flooding, surveyed in the septic tanks and sewer pipes, framed the interior walls, drywalled the houses, and re-leveled both house floors.
DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY
From the standpoint of developing military skills, this exercise was useful. It provided hands-on practice for multiple departments. Engineering Assistants and Plumbing, Electrical, Structures, Heavy Equipment, and Operations personnel all received practical experience. The project was also rewarding on a personal level. Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful organization, and through them we were able to assist in the building of houses for two well-deserving families. My unit was able to meet one of the families and give them a tour of their future house, pointing out to the children which rooms would be theirs. Events like this help to reinforce how fortunate we are to have what we have, while allowing us to use our skills to help our fellow countrymen.