DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Master Sgt. Terry Goff, above, instructed Senior Airman Ronald Paul and Staff Sgt. Joel Houston, right, about insulation in one of the houses that their unit, the 302nd Civil Engineer Squadron from in Colorado, is helping build at Helemano Plantation.
Reserve volunteers donate their sweat
Crews help construct housing for the needy near Dole Plantation
With his sleeves rolled up, beads of sweat rolling down his face and the blazing sun beating on his back on a recent hot summer afternoon, Luis Ayala shouted words of encouragement to his crew.
"What? You think we're working in paradise?" he told them with a laugh over the pounding of a hammer and whirring of a drill.
For two-and-a-half months, Ayala and approximately 150 members of the Air Force Reserve and the National Guard built homes and a recreation center in Wahiawa for the elderly, disabled and economically disadvantaged. Many of the reservists came from the mainland to volunteer in the project.
"When we got here, there was nothing," said Ayala, the project manager. "When we leave, we hope to be 80 percent done."
The volunteers put together three five-bedroom homes and a recreational hall on the 40-acre Aloha Gardens project near Dole Pineapple Plantation.
Susan Cheung, who envisioned the project, said her organization would find a way to complete the work started by the reservists and the National Guard.
Ayala's crew spent approximately two hours every day commuting between their temporary living quarters at Hickam Air Force Base and the construction site at Helemano Plantation.
"It's a long haul every day, but it's worth it to see their smiles," said Ayala, referring to many of the people with developmental disabilities who currently live and work on the adjacent property and would eventually benefit from their construction project.
"What goes on here is extraordinary -- getting them to the point with skills to interact and actively contribute," said Maj. Brett Sichmeller.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Staff Sgt. Scott Forbes cut part way through some blocking for the houses.
The Aloha Gardens project will eventually include a health center, learning center, vocational training facility, dining quarters and housing.
Aloha Gardens was one of more than 100 projects across the nation selected this year by the U.S. Reserves' Innovative Readiness Training program, which has been providing community service for over a decade.
"It's awesome to be doing something for these people that no one else would do," Master Sgt. C.J. Johnston said.
Sgt. Laquion Rodriguez, who lived on Oahu for 10 years before relocating to Colorado, agreed.
"It's great to see the tax money going back to the people -- not to others overseas," he said.
"We work hard during the week, but we do get to enjoy a little bit of Hawaii on the weekend," said Rodriguez, who is stationed in Colorado but was able to visit some of his family and friends who live on Oahu on his day off.
Each civil engineering squadron unit from Alabama, Colorado, Kansas and New Orleans spent approximately two weeks on Oahu, hammering, sawing, wiring or painting.
"To get assignment to come here and help our own, it's very rewarding," Ayala said. "When you go somewhere where you're not accepted, it's hard. But here, we are greeted with open arms."
Johnston said residents and employees occasionally run across the field to greet the workers.
"They salute us, talk to us and even hug us ... and we're nasty ... awfully dirty and sweaty from working out here all day long," she said.
Sichmeller said the entire crew grew very fond of the people they were helping.
"I can't tell you how many people ask us when the house is going to be done. We see their enthusiasm and their optimism. We see who it directly benefits. It makes work an easy chore," he said.