Engineers train with boats, bridges and bullets

A bay of the Improved Ribbon Bridge unfolds in Whites Lake during the Virginia National Guard’s 189th Multi-Role Bridge Company’s training exercise June 7, 2014, at Fort A. P. Hill.  Along with its parent unit, the 276th Engineer Battalion, the Bowling Green-based company participated in various exercises during their two-week annual training at Fort A.P. Hill while being evaluated by active duty Army raters. The Soldiers were rated not only on their individual warrior tasks, but also on Sapper drills and the construction of bridges in two different scenarios: one with a Dry Support Bridge, and the other with an Improved Ribbon Bridge. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Miko M. Skerrett)

A bay of the Improved Ribbon Bridge unfolds in Whites Lake during the Virginia National Guard’s 189th Multi-Role Bridge Company’s training exercise June 7, 2014, at Fort A. P. Hill. Along with its parent unit, the 276th Engineer Battalion, the Bowling Green-based company participated in various exercises during their two-week annual training at Fort A.P. Hill while being evaluated by active duty Army raters. The Soldiers were rated not only on their individual warrior tasks, but also on Sapper drills and the construction of bridges in two different scenarios: one with a Dry Support Bridge, and the other with an Improved Ribbon Bridge. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Miko M. Skerrett)

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. – Virginia National Guard Soldiers of the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command participated in various field exercises this week during their annual training at Fort A.P. Hill. The final event of their field training included the complete construction of a Dry Support Bridge and an Improved Ribbon Bridge. The unit also participated in weapons qualification, engineer tasks and individual battle tasks, such as first aid and tactical operations.

The battalion was also evaluated on their skills and unit readiness by evaluators from the First Army Division East. During each scenario, the evaluators looked on and provided additional information for the scenarios that tested the Soldiers’ reactions and ability to adapt to changes in each situation.

“This is a start-to-finish tactical operation,” said Capt. Christopher Grant, commander of the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company. “While we work on parts of operations like these during drills, annual training provides us with the opportunity to tie those pieces together and really assesses our capabilities as unit.”

The field training exercise was divided over three days with three different missions. The first day involved reconnaissance; given the task of laying out a dry support bridge and an improved ribbon bridge, Soldiers used the first day to decide what they needed to complete this complex task.

“They had to come out here and use the proper technical skill sets to figure out details like the distance across the water, the conditions of the bank, the condition of the road they would use to approach the site,” said Capt. Shawn Otto, the operations officer for the battalion. “It’s a very technical process, and it’s not something that we get to practice very often. It’s a very real-world situation.”

On the second day of the exercise, Soldiers rehearsed their plans, modifying parts of it to ensure a successful mission. The third day was the culmination event of their work.

The final event was a complex operation. The Sapper unit moved to the bridge site first, while encountering various obstacles such as simulated improvised explosive devices and attacks from opposing forces. The Soldiers had to utilize their basic warrior tasks by properly responding to each situation, while observers handed out additional scenarios that included wounded Soldiers. Once the route to the bridge site was clear, the engineers were called forward.

“It’s hard to understand the nature and complexity of engineer operations. A lot of equipment has to move around and controlling that equipment is a critical task,” said Otto. “You only get to do that when you do a big operation like this.”

An exercise two years in the making, Otto noted that there were several objectives for the unit. One of the main objectives was for the Soldiers to understand that on the modern battlefield, they are not working alone. The success of the exercise relied on the ability of the battalion and its subordinate companies to work together to execute the mission, said Otto.

He also noted that on the modern battlefield, engineers are scattered, supporting various units and people in different locations. The field exercise replicated this common situation on a smaller scale, as the engineers were not only in two different locations on Fort A. P. Hill, but the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company and the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company were in Henry County, working on a construction site that spread out over 19 acres.

“What these Soldiers are doing right now is not the highest level of proficiency,” said Otto. “It’s baby steps; this allows people to identify where they need to practice more and give them some time to go back and do constructive After-Action reports, practice the tasks again and come back and perform slightly more complex tasks.”

“This is a great learning experience for everyone,” said Capt. Artur Taryan, the current operations officer-in-charge of the battalion. “It’s a training exercise; you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s perfectly fine. You work through it with your team and make sure that you learn from those mistakes.”

Spc. Bryan Estes, a bridge crew member of the Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company, said that while his favorite event of the annual training so far was qualifying on various guns on the range, the most satisfying part was when he was selected to participate in the reconnaissance missions.

“It was a great experience for me because I gained a deeper understanding of how to locate sites for bridges,” said Estes. “I received hands-on training on everything that goes into this task. My staff sergeant showed me how we have to look for things like the right soil, the right depth of water and height of cover. Everything applies when it comes to these bridges.”

The engineer battalion will continue to participate in weapon ranges, core competencies and individual tasks throughout next week at Fort A.P. Hill.

Photos on Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157645028069416/