By EA3 (SCW) Jessica Couvillier, NMCB 133 Public Affairs
EOCN Collin Scheffer (left) and EOCN Sawyer Buck from NMCB 133 Detail Montana use bulldozers in tandem to clear and grub the job site, Fort Belknap, Mont. (U.S. Navy photo/150819-N-ZZ999-002)
A team of 18 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 arrived at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Montana, recently to begin site preparation for a future housing development as part of the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), a program designed to improve military readiness and simultaneously provide services to underserved communities.
The Fort Belknap IRT mission is to provide much-needed housing for families of the local Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes. The lack of housing is an increasingly pressing issue within the Fort Belknap community. With more than 300 families on the waiting list for housing, community directors began to look for a solution in 2008, and after several years of planning, the Eagle Valley Housing Development was conceived.
Seabees assigned to NMCB 133’s Detail Montana crew work diligently to prepare an 18.4-acre site for a housing development that will create 27 homes for the Fort Belknap American Indian Community in Montana. (U.S. Navy photo/150825-N-ZZ999-003)
Fort Belknap leadership collaborated with Marvin Thurman, program manager, Operation Walking Shield (OWS), to garner support for the project. OWS is an organization that strives to improve the quality of life for American Indian families by coordinating programs that provide shelter, healthcare, community development support, education assistance and humanitarian aid.
The request for IRT support and funding was reviewed by the Congressional Committee for Civil-Military Programs and approved by the Secretary of Defense. The final tasking to execute the project went through DoD channels and was ultimately received by NMCB 133. After six weeks of hard work, NMCB 133 Seabees moved 40,000+ cubic yards of soil, establishing 27 house pads, four roads and two alleys, turning what was once a field of tall grass into the beginning of a 160-unit housing development. The IRT project significantly benefited the Fort Belknap Reservation, providing over $650,000 worth of construction service to the community.
“I hope that one day, they’ll be holding the keys to their own homes,” said Tribal President Mark Azure during the groundbreaking ceremony, Sept. 2.
EO3 Tiffany Jerzak, NMCB 133, carefully grades the main road to elevation, Fort Belknap, Mont. (U.S. Navy photo/150826-N-ZZ999-003)
Fort Belknap Transportation Director John Healy expressed hope that once the initial housing development site is established, a new Wellness Center can be constructed to promote health and wellness within the community. Additionally, discussions began for long-term green energy production with wind turbines and solar panels. The IRT project was an excellent training opportunity for the NMCB 133 ‘Bees. Over a 40-day period, the crew received extensive on-the-job training with various construction activities involving multiple pieces of construction equipment. Each crew member accumulated 250+ hours of equipment operation time including dozers, graders, scrapers, rollers, loaders, dump trucks and water trucks. They also learned the process of project planning from beginning to end.
“Being in Montana has taught me how a group of individuals, though inexperienced, can accomplish great things through training such as this,” said Construction Mechanic Constructionman Tyler Hattenbach, NMCB 133, who had the opportunity to spend more time behind the wheel than under the hood during this project.
EO2 Christopher Witter (left), crew leader, demonstrates how to excavate a ditch with a grader to EOCN Sawyer Buck, both assigned to NMCB 133, Fort Belknap, Mont. (U.S. Navy photo/150819-N-ZZ999-004)
As the Seabees departed Fort Belknap, they hope to return and continue what they have started. “The impact of what our Seabees accomplished here will be felt for many years to come,” said Ens. Alex Liu, Detail Montana officer in charge. “This IRT was an awesome way to give back to the community. I hope Seabees will have the opportunity to come back and continue to make contributions in the future.”
Seabees assigned to NMCB 133 stand in front of their equipment and respectfully place their hard hats on the ground, while Edward “Buster” Moore blesses them with traditional Native American prayer, Fort Belknap, Mont. Buster fills the air with the burning aroma of sweet grass tobacco, symbolically immersing the Seabees in a cloak of blessing that will protect and strengthen them. They are thanked for the hope they have brought to the Fort Belknap American Indian Community families that will one day live in the housing development. (U.S. Navy photo/150902-N-ZZ999-004)