FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. – Staring out into darkness, Spc. Hoang Tran could hardly wait to get started. Wet from an early morning storm, a little bit cold and with mud caking his Army combat boots, he eagerly directed each Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck toward the shoreline in the early morning hours of July 24, 2013.
Just as fast as the Arkansas sun started to rise through the clouds, soldiers all around him enthusiastically began moving vehicles, preparing Army engineer boats and dropping large Army green bridge sections into the river.
A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter assigned to the 7th Aviation Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, drops buoys as divers assigned to the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment, 30th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, from Fort Bragg, N.C., look on during Operation River Assault at Fort Chaffee, Ark., July 24, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Justin Snyder)
“This is what I came here to do,” said Tran, 671st Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge). “A little rain won't do anything but motivate us to get the mission accomplished even faster.”
What began as only an idea and a goal became a reality as engineers from the 459th Engineer Company (MRB), 671st Engineer Company (MRB), and 74th Engineer Company (MRB) came together with the assistance of medics, military police, dive specialists and support personnel, to construct an Improved Ribbon Bridge across the river.
Each of the engineer units took care of unloading a quarter of the bridging section, with the final section coming from Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
When the last of 44 bridge sections hit the water, soldiers high-fived and praised each other enthusiastically as if they had just won a sporting event.
“Heck of a job guys!” said Tran, a native of Portland, Ore. “We were on a tight schedule, but we got it done faster then we expected.”
Standing in the background, Lt. Col. Keith Krajewski, 389th Engineer Battalion crossing area commander, could not help but be proud of what his soldiers had accomplished.
“These guys deserve to be happy and should be proud of what they just did,” said Krajewski. “They've been out here training and rehearsing for over a week now. This is like their Super Bowl. I can't stress how well they did.”
Over the past week and a half, the nearly 800 soldiers participating in Operation River Assault have been vigorously training in preparation for the bridge crossing. The engineers tested and familiarized themselves with their boats and vehicles, while continuing to brush up on their soldier skills such as land navigation, marksmanship and demolition.
This often made for long days in the field and made it crucial for them to capitalize on the limited training time they received on the bridging elements.
“We've been very busy from the moment we stepped onto the ground at Fort Chaffee,” said Spc. Israel Sanchez, a bridge team member with the 671st Engineer Company (MRB) “We've practiced for every scenario. From pulling security and getting up early to building a raft, everything we did here went into the final mission today.”
Under the careful watch of the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment, 30th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C, acting as a safety and support element, along with security personnel and Army medics the engineers were able to put all their training to use and complete the water bridge in roughly three hours.
The bridge was then used to transport security elements and soldiers to the opposite side of the river.
While the river assault was just a training mission, for the soldiers participating it was a glance at what their mission could involve if deployed overseas.
“This is a great opportunity to do engineer training,” said Maj. General William Buckler, commanding general of the 412th Theater Engineer Command and a native of Southside, Ala. “This is part of the Army Reserve training strategy and is one of the building blocks of the progressive readiness model that we use to ensure our units are ready to deploy at any time.”
While some of the soldiers on ground have deployed before, for many it was their first chance to put together a full-enclosure bridge.
It also served as the first opportunity for many of the engineers to work together as one force.
“I'm very new to the engineer field and this was my first annual training exercise,” said Sanchez, a native of Clackamas, Ore. “The familiarity and trust you gain from working alongside people is something you can't duplicate without actually doing it. I think this exercise is great for team building and that can go a long way overseas.”
Following the exercise, the engineers then proceeded to break down the full-enclosure bridge and will soon head back to their respective home stations.
However, you can guarantee that all the soldiers will leave with a greater knowledge of essential soldier skills and a little better at their jobs.
“It was great to see our soldiers saddle up and complete the mission in a timely and successful matter,” said Krajewski. “In a real life scenario, we only get one chance to make this happen. It's a good feeling knowing they took their's, ran with it and I think they are better soldiers because of it.”
By U.S. Army Pfc. Justin Snyder
Provided through DVIDS
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