New York Guardsmen Build STEM Learning Center During Training Mission

HALEIWA, Hawaii – While most New York Army National Guard Soldiers spent their 2019 annual training at Fort Drum, Fort Indiantown Gap, or Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst, 45 Soldiers from the 204th Engineer Battalion did their training in Hawaii.

Soldiers from 1156th Engineer Company were selected to participate in an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) rotation at Girl Scout Camp Paumalu in Haleiwa, Hawaii, this summer. IRT is a joint service program that began in 1993, providing real-world training opportunities for service members to prepare them for wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

Communities typically provide materials and basic services, while military units contribute personnel and resources. IRT is designed to produce mission-ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.

“The Hawaii Girl Scout Camp IRT is an outstanding program for New York Army National Guard engineers which will benefit the local community while fostering an environment for our Soldiers to grow, develop, and prepare for future missions,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Wing Yu, commander of the 204th Engineer Battalion.

Along with service members from other U.S. military components, New York’s engineers have been working at the camp to help build a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning center for the Girl Scouts.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Oliverio Hernandez explains that this was not a volunteer mission. Service members were selected by their chain of command because of their standings in the unit and their military job training.

“We were hand-selected for this rotation because they needed our specific skill sets,” he says.

The 23-year veteran with the Army National Guard has been through myriad training missions and environments across the U.S., but this was the first of its kind for him.

“This IRT is actually a large-scale project that we’re building from the bottom up,” CW2 Hernandez says. “This is more than just equipment familiarization; this is practical application in a real-world environment with a real-world impact.”

The IRT mission took Soldiers out of their normal home stations and forced them to adapt to a new, different, and challenging environment.

Another unique benefit of IRT is that it’s geared toward developing junior and future leaders.

PFC Jesse Velez, a plumber assigned to the 1156th Engineer Company, 204th Engineer Battalion, New York Army National Guard, measures a board before cutting it during an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission at Camp Paumalu, Haleiwa, Hawaii, July 31, 2019. (Photo by SSG Michael Davis).

Lower enlisted service members are not only doing the hands-on training that wouldn’t normally occur in a drill weekend or annual training, they are also given the opportunity to teach and learn from their peers.

Most Soldiers on the roster have the rank of Private First Class (PFC) or Specialist (SPC), which is just below Sergeant (SGT), and will soon become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) with management responsibilities. This mission affords Soldiers the time and opportunity to practice training others, as well as learning the patience it takes to be an effective leader.

“Learning and instructing that happens at the lower levels builds a greater sense of team and unit cohesion, which all adds to the readiness for the force,” CW2 Hernandez says. “They’re getting to manage, teach, and learn during a real mission.”

Two of these future leaders who are an integral part of the mission are PFC Anthony Allen and PFC Jesse Velez. Both are members of the 1156th Engineer Company, and each has a civilian trade that enhances his military job and this mission.

PFC Allen has been in the New York Amy National Guard for two years. He’s a 12W Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for his unit, who was also assigned as the chainsaw trainer and team leader for the IRT mission because of his civilian experience.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived on the worksite, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything like what he was used to back home.

“We’ve had challenges, but our biggest one so far is definitely the weather,” he says.

Even though he’s only been with the Guard a short time, PFC Allen has the mindset and determination of a seasoned veteran.

“It doesn’t matter what we come across, we’re going to work through it.”

PFC Velez is a 12K Plumber on his very first mission with the Guard.

“This is the perfect place to test what the Army just trained me to do in Basic and Advanced Individual Training,” he says.

While being grateful for the opportunities the National Guard has already afforded him, he’s looking to contribute his skills to the mission and continue learning as much as he can.

“This is the true definition of one-fight, one-team. We’re building community relationships together – showing them they can count on us!”

Once the IRT portion is complete, the Girl Scouts will have only a fraction of the building to be completed before they can begin to teach girls and boys from across all the islands.

Shari Chang, Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO and a fourth-generation Girl Scout, says she applied for the IRT program knowing she could partner with a skilled labor force that would have the capabilities and expertise to make the project happen.

The estimated completion date is September 2020.

“We are so thankful for the support from the military on this project,” says Chang. “The whole process is now coming to fruition, and it has been an amazing opportunity for both of us.”

Army National Guard Soldiers are dedicated to serving their communities, and an IRT is just one of the many opportunities to do so. If you’re passionate about making an impact, consider joining the Guard. Explore more than 130 exciting careers in fields like logistics, technology, and transportation on our job board, and contact a recruiter to learn how you can serve today!

From an original article by SSG Michael Davis, New York National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August 2019.

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