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NEWS | July 11, 2023

Navy Reserve Seabees Build Home for Native Americans in Need

By Chief Petty Officer Christopher Okula

The paint is still drying on a brand new house completed by a group of Reserve-duty Seabees, who put the finishing touches today on a dwelling built for a family in need as part of a partnership with the Southwest Indian Foundation (SWIF), headquartered here.

The project was the latest success in an ongoing effort dubbed Operation Footprint by the Department of Defense's Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program, one of 12 ongoing construction-related IRT projects across the globe.

Various construction disciplines were exercised, from concrete to framing to plumbing and electrical – all skills with which military construction teams need real-world experience to succeed in their brand of warfighting, said Cmdr. Leia Guccione, commanding officer of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 18, whose troops provided the bulk of the muscle needed to realize this latest accomplishment.

“There’s no substitute for experience in our line of work,” said Guccione. “You can’t learn how to build a house from a PowerPoint. You can’t learn how to build a bridge or a road or pour a pad from a PowerPoint. You’ve really gotta get out here, get your hands dirty, and do it.”

The IRT program was conceived in the early nineties to deliver unique training opportunities in support of military readiness while simultaneously serving a community benefit. This three month-long construction effort did exactly that, said Guccione.

“Currently, the NMCB 18 team has 135 folks who are downrange,” Guccione said. “One of the things they shared with us is that, for several of them, having worked on the [Southwest Indian Foundation] project was some of the best training to get them ready for the mission they had ... It actually pays dividends.”

While its contemporary design wouldn't look out of place in most neighborhoods, this particular light tan single-family unit was erected on a small hill overlooking the rolling desert landscape 15 miles east of Gallup on off-reservation land held in trust for the Navajo Nation.

The four-bed, two bath, rambler-style residence, called a hogan by some locals, was built to help alleviate the housing situation that was once described by former President Kelsey Begay of the Navajo Nation as 20,000 too few.

“The hard work the Reservists do is critical to meet our goal of building homes for homeless Navajo families,” said Jeremy Boucher, Southwest Indian Foundation's director of operations. “The Reservists’ presence in Gallup has had a positive effect on the whole community, and we are immensely grateful to be an IRT partner.”

The Seabees of NMCB 18 were joined during the final weeks of construction by 30 soldiers from the Nevada Army National Guard's 240th Engineering Company out of Las Vegas, Nevada, who worked arm-in-arm with the Seabees to finish the four-bedroom house while constructing an additional home for later delivery inside SWIF's Gallup Manufacturing Facility. Technicians and volunteers with the Southwest Indian Foundation provided additional assistance as needed.

“To come out here and do this project with SWIF and the Navy Seabees, it's been an outstanding operation,” said 1st Lt. Gabriel Brillanates, the 240th Engineering Company's platoon leader.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to both showcase our strengths and recognize areas for improvement,” he said.

Navy Capt. Marc F. Williams, Commodore of FIRST Naval Construction Regiment based on Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California, visited the construction site on June 15 to assess the quality of training obtained and explore avenues to refine future in-field training opportunities to maximize their efficacy.

“From a real-world standpoint, you can go to every class in the world ... But until you’re on a job site where you can learn how to adapt and overcome while exercising your skills in a joint environment with actual stakes on the line, no classroom can compare,” said Williams.

“For the Seabees, for the Army, and for our community partners, this is truly a win-win-win,” he said.

The inter-service IRT program is a charitable effort and training opportunity that since 1998 has helped the Southwest Indian Foundation build and deliver more than 200 homes to disadvantaged families, all in support of the Southwest Indian Foundation's efforts to improve the lives of people representing the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Laguna, Acoma, and Apache tribes.

The Department of Defense's IRT website accepts applications from potential community partners for training opportunities in support of military training goals that align with various medical, civil engineering, cyber security, transportation, and aerial spray missions.