Surveying the piece of wood flooring he just nailed down, Master Sgt. Dexter Hodge wipes a handful of sweat from his face and stretches his back.
“Man it’s hot!” he says, wiping the sweat on his pants.
That is an understatement. There’s hot, and then there’s the kind of hot where moving a finger causes sweat to trickle down one’s back and even taking a breath catches lungs on fire.
This was that kind of hot. And, unfortunately, Hodge was moving more than a finger.
He’s one of nearly a dozen Air Force Reservists who are building two cabins inside Camp Mohawk, a small park in Alvin, Texas, just south of Houston. The cabins are located on a small pond and will be used as rentals, where would-be campers can spend time away from the hectic pace of day-to-day life.
This may sound strange, a group of Airmen building cabins on a park in rural Texas, but their mission is actually more involved than a simple construction job. The project is part of the Air Force’s Innovative Readiness Training program, a program that started in 1992 when then-President Bill Clinton instituted a “Rebuild America” initiative. As part of this initiative, the Department of Defense created the IRT program and began searching for projects that would serve American communities in need and provide realistic military training benefits to its Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.
For the Air Force, this program falls under the Reserve Command, and was seen as a way to both give back to communities and provide real-world, hands-on training to Airmen.
“So, really this program is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Senior Master Sgt. Calvin Galloway, the Camp Mohawk project lead. “The community gets an improvement to its infrastructure and the Airmen involved get the chance to learn and practice skills they need in their Air Force specialty.”
This real-world training and experience is needed and hard to duplicate during normal training weekends, according to the program officials.
“Our reservists spend most (of their duty weekends) performing ancillary training, exercises, inspections, paperwork, medical requirements and other activities, but rarely have time to focus on job-specific skills,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Sexton, superintendent of AFRC’s IRT branch. “Conducting IRT projects gets our Airmen out of these normal training events and allows them to focus solely on honing their job-specific skill sets.”
IRT projects take place all over the country, providing manpower and skills needed for infrastructure upgrades and often even bringing medical and dental services to communities that are considered in need.
But, says Sexton, the program isn’t open to just any community project. There is a set of requirements that must be met before a project becomes an official part of the IRT program.
“Eligible entities provide a community request for assistance,” Sexton said. “All requests are reviewed by IRT and the respective directorates, and ranked by their potential training benefit.”
Once a project is selected, IRT officials works with AFRC members to determine which units will participate. Many factors play in to the unit selection process, including which ones have upcoming deployments, exercises or inspections and what capabilities the units might have. Often, a team will be made up of Reservists from a variety of units who volunteer for the project.
These projects are cost-effective, too.
“The community provides all of the materials,” Sexton said. “IRT provides the project planning, project management, equipment, tools, and opportunity, so the only expense to the unit is the normal cost of annual training.”
And, while these projects do help communities and provide valuable training to Airmen, there are intangible benefits as well.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to interact with our communities on a professional basis,” Sexton said. “It’s not a tangible asset, but it goes a long way towards bolstering support for the military.”