Picture this …
US military doctors and dentists in field conditions providing much-needed care to a remote community.
Construction battalions paving roads and erecting communal buildings for local citizens.
These are the images we like to see – our troops going into other countries fighting the “good” fight. Usually, those images are in faraway lands working with indigenous populations that desperately need our help. What if US troops also provided those same services to our own communities right here for our own people? What if homes were built for Native Americans? What if free eyewear was supplied to folks in Alabama and Alaska?
Say hello to the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. Since President Clinton in 1993, Title 10 Code 2012 enacts the IRT program specifically as a means of utilizing the skill sets and capabilities of the military for the benefit of United States citizens. IRT is a Department of Defense program executed by six components of three military services – Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard, Army Active and Reserve, Army National Guard, US Marine Corps Reserve, and Navy Active and Reserve. The DoD provides overarching guidance and policy and the components themselves create and maintain mutually beneficial civil-military relationships.
How does it work?
IRT is about training, not deployment. Our service members need training on military skill sets, and real-world training prepares them well. In alignment with posse comitatus mandate, IRT law dictates the services cannot participate in law enforcement or natural or manmade disaster relief, but the restrictions basically end there. Although the code allows for wide interpretation, typical IRT collaborations fall into two categories: construction projects and medical missions.
Building or road projects are 2-6 months long. Projects can be as simple as footbridge construction or as coordinated as home building or runway paving. The scope of work for the project must be developed so that any work in progress can be weathered in or completed within the time constraints.
More complex projects can be broken into multi-year phases; however, this extends the overall construction time considerably and subjects the project to budget process uncertainty. Although some communities have completed multiple projects by this year-over-year practice, they risk a service also being able to return year after year.
Medical missions last approximately two weeks with additional days on the front for advanced parties to set up and the same on the back side for break down. Several communities have had the benefit of multiple year participation; however, the more prevalent practice is to partner with larger health organizations that rotate locations from year to year.
Most missions include basic medical and dental exams, veterinary services and even on-site eyeglasses fabrication.
IRT is an annual process. Communities and military components must submit their requests each year. Every year DoD must request funds to support the program. Most projects are a combination of funding from within a service department for service members to participate and DoD funds that cover unbudgeted overhead specific to the project. Communities pay for construction materials and some expendables, such as fuel for equipment. For medical missions, communities provide locations for operations and accommodations for participants.
The funds issued to DoD by Congress for the IRT program have consistently been awarded every year; however, the funds must be requested each year. The budget delays and Continuing Resolutions that have become more and more common have challenged the program’s stability.
What communities qualify?
As you can imagine, not just any community qualifies to take part in the program. Although each application requires legal review for compliance with the code, federal, state and local agencies are easily spelled out in the law. Less obvious candidates are “Youth and charitable organizations specified in section 508 of title 32” which requires a bit more due diligence on the part of the organization, but it’s not burdensome. Finally, DoD can qualify an entity on a case-by-case basis. That is a bit stickier.
Currently, several federal, state, local and tribal agencies participate. Section 508 programs participating include Boy Scouts of America, YMCA, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (NDSDF), and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA).
Want to know more?
Coming up I’ll report on specific ongoing projects for FY17 as well as those for FY18. If you interested in how the program might work for your community, check out the DoD IRT website link.