Military helping hands

Published 11:30 pm Thursday, July 16, 2009

Imagine an army of a workforce prepared to help a city or county improve its infrastructure or access to medical care without cost.

The program is called the Innovative Response Training Program and it’s available through the U.S. military.

Selma City Councilwoman Susan Keith heard about this workforce possibility for the city when she attended a Delta Regional Authority meeting in Memphis, Tenn., recently. She invited Pete Johnson, the DRA federal co-chairman, to bring representatives from IRT to discuss ways the program could help Selma.

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They met with other city and county officials Thursday morning at the St. James Hotel.

“I am thoroughly impressed,” Keith said. “They could do so much for us.”

Capt. Karen Trueblood is deputy director for the Department of Defense program that provides the soldiers to work. She talked about some of the successes and ongoing ventures the program has in other areas.

For example, last November, a group of Navy Seabees, Marines and other service people began providing the workforce and equipment to assist people in Western Alaska to move their village.

The work is under way. It’s a five-year project.

While the Yup’iks — about 325 of them — get their village moved from a rapidly eroding shoreline, the service people get construction and logistical experience that will help them in Iraq, Iran, Kosevo or any other sites they’re sent to build or rebuild, she said.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Trueblood said.

The program is not a new one. It was founded in 1993 during the Bill Clinton Administration to put the military to work. Since that time, it has helped many communities across the nation build roads, youth centers and even provide medical care for some sites.

Mayor George Evans, who attended Thursday’s session, said he liked the idea.

Councilman the Rev. Dr. Cecil Williamson said he believes the military could be used effectively in Selma to help with drainage issues.

“I think we could put them to work here,” he said.