New York Guard, Habitat for Humanity Partner to Build Houses in Puerto Rico

August 20, 2018

Forty-five soldiers from the New York Army National Guard’s 204th Engineer Battalion spent two weeks helping Habitat for Humanity build a three-family home in Puerto Rico, July 30-Aug. 10.

The work was done as part of the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, through which soldiers hone military skills while also helping local communities.

The engineer soldiers were among a series of National Guard and Army Reserve engineer units helping to construct the housing, explained Army Maj. Dan. Colomb, the operations officer for the 204th, which is headquartered in Binghamton, New York.

Twenty of the soldiers were members of the battalion’s 1156th Engineer Company, which specializes in vertical construction, featuring soldiers with carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical skills. The other soldiers came from other companies in the battalion, Colomb said.

Partnership With Habitat for Humanity

The building is designed to resist hurricanes, and is being constructed in the Quintana neighborhood of San Juan. The New York Guardsmen worked with a local contractor hired by Habitat for Humanity, officials who ensured that materials arrived on time and provided construction advice, Colomb explained.

The 204th Engineer soldiers were responsible for building the forms and pouring all of the walls on the first floor, both internal and external. The unit also did some work on assembling scaffolding and framing for the second floor, before turning that over to the next iteration, Colomb explained.

While a portion of the 204th soldiers worked on the site for the Habitat for Humanity project, other engineers did work for the Puerto Rico Air National Guard at Muniz Air National Guard Base and for the Puerto Rico Army National Guard at its Camp Santiago facility, Colomb said.

Overall, it was a good mission for the New York soldiers and their leaders, he said.

Training, Fostering Relationships

“This mission allowed our soldiers to accomplish training for their individual readiness while also fostering relationships through the community tie-in and partnership,” Colomb said. “They were exercising their military occupational specialty skills, running the full gamut of the construction engineer tasks, everything from carpentry and masonry work to plumbing.”

The soldiers got to see the end result of the project, he said.

“Sometimes at annual training we dig a hole and then fill it back in. This project was rewarding, in that we could see tangible results that will be handed over to fellow citizens in need,” Colomb explained.

Deploying to Puerto Rico was not new for the New York Army National Guard.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, which caused massive destruction on Puerto Rico, the New York National Guard deployed 300 soldiers to help.

The New York Air National Guard also flew missions bringing supplies to the island.