By BUC Kimberly Gibson, CBMU 303
Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 303 deployed a task-tailored team of 20 active duty and reserve component Seabees from four permanent detachment sites to Window Rock, Ariz., in support of the Department of Defense (DoD) Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. The IRT program utilizes DoD funding to provide hands-on readiness training opportunities, while at the same time providing a direct and lasting benefit to local communities throughout the United States.
During this specific IRT mission, CBMU 303 worked in partnership with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 25 and the Southwest Indian Foundation (SWIF) to build homes for Navajo Nation families in need. Although military men and women have been supporting the SWIF project for years, CBMU 303 is the first active duty NCF unit to participate in official DoD-sponsored IRT work in just over a decade. The IRT program oversight and management is staffed by Navy Reserve and Air National Guard personnel.
This joint mission provides unique training opportunities for both active duty and reserve Seabees. Working side-by-side with reserve component Seabees who work in the civilian construction industry and the SWIF manufacturing staff helps improve rating skills and build confidence. Working on a Seabee construction project can be a unique experience for the reserves as well. When asked about the work, reserve component Construction Electrician 1st Class Joseph Macdougall said, “Actually doing construction work is good experience and good training. On our drill weekends, we do a lot of administrative work. Working with guys who do this all the time is great for us.”
Active and reserve component Seabees alike are honing their interior and exterior finishing skills and placing foundations for pre-manufactured homes waiting to be delivered. The project scope includes light frame construction, interior wiring, plumbing, drywall, siding and roofing activities.
Of the 350,000 Navajo people, roughly half live on the Navajo Reservation near Gallup, N.M. There is no major industry and the unemployment rate is 45-65 percent. Many Navajo have moved away from the reservation to find work; many more are solely dependent on tribal, state and federal government programs. SWIF works in partnership with the Navajo Housing Authority to produce manufactured homes, which are donated to Navajo people who are handicapped, elderly, infirmed or are families with dependent children. The modest, 768-square-foot homes are offered to people who may never have a home otherwise. To qualify for one of these homes, the family must have either a home-site lease from the Navajo Housing Authority or a residential lease from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In addition, they must report their annual income, and provide both archaeological and environmental clearances.
Seabee accomplished a major milestone when they broke ground on the site of the 200th home. It is the first home that will be built on site rather than in the factory, but the significance goes beyond the number 200. Building on site, allows SWIF to expand its service area from a 60-mile radius to a 100-mile radius, enabling the foundation to reach more people.
“[Seabees] are a vital part of our mission,” said Joseph Esparza, director of Projects Office, SWIF. “We have committed to build 90 homes in the next three years and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of the military and the IRT.”
While DoD support to SWIF is ongoing, CBMU 303 contributions conclude in May.
“It’s good to be here…the Navajo people have a need for the skills we can provide,” said Builder 2nd Class Walter Degracia. “I am happy to be a part of this mission.”