Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Their work may not be quiet, but eight men bulldozing a hill and building a new road by the East Fork Dam see very few people during most of their workday. For the past month they have shown up each weekday, and some Saturdays, at a site just inside the entrance to the Pah-Nah-To Recreational Park, where they mount bulldozers and begin moving earth.
The men are there as part of the Air Force Reserve Innovative Readiness Training program, which gives reservists training on heavy equipment they don't receive at their home units and helps non-profit organizations, including American Indian tribes, complete labor-intensive projects.
At Rocky Boy, the reservists are helping cut a road into a hillside because in a few years, when the East Fork Dam is raised 37 feet, the current section of road will be flooded. This summer the men are cutting a 1,000-foot section of road, one of the steepest parts of 5,000 feet of roadway that have to be moved. Reservists are tentatively scheduled to return next summer and complete another section.
In some places the men are raising earth as much as 40 feet and in other places, lowering it 30 feet.
"When we show up in our uniform, people say, 'Hey, what's going on,'" Senior Master Sgt. Ray Riel said Tuesday. "Most of the time when we do these jobs, we come into a place with no military (presence)." A month into a two-month stint at Rocky Boy, the project has already been an exception, he said. People at Rocky Boy know what the men are doing there and have gone out of their way to thank them for it.
"I've been doing these projects since '99 and this is the first where people really do appreciate what we're doing here," he said.
Riel and his seven-man crew were invited to participate early this month in the Rocky Boy Pow-Wow. Every year the powwow honors reservation veterans, and this year the tribe included their reservist guests. The men drill at Reserve units in Nevada, Texas, Washington and Alabama.
During the ceremony the men were presented with Pendleton blankets, which each keeps on his bed at the Great Northern Inn, Riel said. Riel, who lives in Whitefish, invited some of the men to visit his home over a weekend. The four who came each brought their blankets with them, he said.
"It's 95 percent wool, 5 percent cotton blend," said Senior Airman Ralph Saldutti, who had never been to a powwow and found it and the gift to be "impressive."
Riel said the men were so impressed by the gift, they studied the blankets, even memorizing the labels.
"I'm glad that the tribe honored them," said Jim Morsette, water resources director for the tribe. "We're pleased to have them here. It's going to help us build that road that we didn't have budgeted."
The Air Force Reserve found out about the project through Walking Shields American Indian Society, a non-profit that coordinates projects on reservations across the country, Chief Master Sgt. Gil Taylor said today in a telephone interview from Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Taylor coordinates the Innovative Readiness Training program for the Reserve.
"This gives them a chance to get hands-on training," Taylor said.