SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- 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 to August 10.

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

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

Twenty of the Soldiers were members of the battalion's 1156th Engineer Company, which specializes in vertical construction (carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical). The other Soldiers came from other companies in the battalion, Colomb said.

The building, designed to resist hurricanes, is being constructed in the Quintana neighborhood of San Juan. The New York Soldiers worked with a local contractor hired by Habitat for Humanity, ensuring that materials arrived on time and provided expert advice if needed, 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 said.

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, Colomb said.

He broke the 45 Soldiers into two platoon sized elements and assigned each of them to a new second lieutenant

"This was a tremendously rewarding experience for 2nd Lt. Andrew Kopf, and 2nd Lt. Stephen Hoeprich to hone their leadership skills as they await their first assignment as platoon leader," Colomb explained.

For the Soldiers the mission was a an additional chance to improve their skills, he added.

"This mission allowed our Soldiers to accomplish training for their individual readiness while also fostering relationships through the community tie-in and partnership," he said. "They were exercising their MOS (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 emphasized.
"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," he explained.

For engineer Soldiers who do something different in civilian life, this was also a great chance to do get more experience within those engineer disciplines, he added.

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

In the wake of 2017's Hurricane Maria, which caused massive destruction on Puerto Rico, the New York National Guard deployed 300 Soldiers to help.

Soldiers from the 152nd Engineer Company, the 442nd Military Police Company and the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment were sent to the island.

The 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, flew four UH-60 Black Hawks on relief missions.

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