Idaho National Guard Lends a Helping Hand to Nearby Tribes

An Idaho Guard Soldier with the 166th Brigade Engineer Battalion uses a bulldozer to help repair a cattle road on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation as part of an Innovative Readiness Training program held September 2018. Idaho National Guard photo by TSgt John Winn

Situated about 150 miles south of Boise’s Gowen Field and spanning more than 500 square miles along the Idaho-Nevada border is the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, home to the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.

The tribes’ location in a large, high-desert valley lends itself to one of their major industries: cattle ranching. However, the tribes have limited construction resources to maintain access to the cattle across the vast hills and valleys. 

As part of its innovative readiness training (IRT) program, the Idaho National Guard offered its assistance September 2018 to repair several cattle roads on the reservation. Improving the rough roads was also an opportunity for members of the Idaho Guard to put their civil engineering skills to good use. 

“The main purpose and reason for the building of this [road] is to enable tribal fire crews, which have a little bit older equipment, to get from the highway, over ridges and back into the pastures where all of the cattle graze,” said Army National Guard 1LT Zebulon Struble, project officer in charge of the civil engineer tasking for the 166th Brigade Engineer Battalion. 

The IRT was more than a matter of pouring pavement to create roadways. Crews navigated the effects of weather and existing trails to ensure durability and sustainability of the final product. 

“Now that we’ve put all of the culverts in up to the top of the ridge, we’ve got a better idea of where the runoff goes from the snow,” 1LT Struble said. “There are erosion paths and water trails, so we know where to repair, where to dig diversion ditches and where to dig water bars. The difference between what it was before and what it is right now is already [as different as] night and day.” 

Along with providing heavy equipment and trail-building support, the Idaho Guard sent a team of medical professionals to the Owyhee Community Health Facility. The team lent its expertise and provided relief to staff members, allowing them to catch up on a significant backlog of paperwork. 

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“Within 15-20 minutes, we were hitting the ground running, getting things done,” said COL Thomas Caldwell, the Idaho Army National Guard medical detachment chief of aviation medicine. “[The Facility staff members] have been wonderful, and they seem to appreciate us coming down.” 

COL Caldwell said the IRT also offered valuable opportunities for collaborative training. In addition to providing support at the medical facility, Idaho Guard members participated in health education programs with local youths and individuals at the reservation’s Senior Citizens Center. 

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COL Caldwell said the experience was a plus for both the Shoshone-Paiute community and Idaho Guard members.


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