Va. National Guard engineers continue Henry County economic development project

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Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continue construction work on an Innovative Readiness Training project for Henry County June 12, 2015, at the Patriot Centre, Martinsville, Va. (Photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

MARTINSVILLE, Va – Virginia National Guard Soldiers wrapped up phase two of an Innovative Readiness Training construction project June 18, 2015, in Martinsville, Va.

Approximately 120 Soldiers assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continued the construction operation for two weeks as part of their annual training. Soldiers from the unit worked hard to continue the previous year’s efforts by continuing to transform a rugged, mountainous hill to a flat usable industrial pad; which entailed cutting the tops of large uneven hills, filling large gaps and trenches, and grading the entire 15-acre pad to make it suitable for future development.

“This is outstanding training,” said Capt. Keith Harrop, commander of the 180th Engineer Company. “You see a Soldier after a day of training—and I mean a full day of training, Soldiers start at 5 a.m. and don’t get off the machines until eight or nine o’clock at night—and the Soldier just looks happy. They exercising the equipment and having a great time doing it, and probably most importantly, they are becoming licensed and better heavy equipment operators, which makes us more ready and relevant to both our state and federal missions.”

This project is part of the National Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training program. IRT projects enhance the unit’s training and readiness, while filling a crucial community need that is not otherwise being met. The company must maintain its training readiness and equipment operator proficiency by conducting realistic training, and IRT projects provide a meaningful outlet for that training and further connect the National Guard with the communities they serve.

“We’re getting a chance to operate all of our equipment at one time, on one work site,” said Sgt. Timothy Mahanes, team leader with the 180th Engineer Company. “I’ve gotten the chance to direct dump trucks, scrappers, graders, bull dozers and excavators; we rarely get a chance to get a construction site this big to actually get to use all of this equipment.”

According to Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner, who said that the county’s original estimate on the cost of the rough-grading project was more than $1 million, but thanks to the work by the Virginia National Guard, the county has paid only about $300,000 of the projects total cost.

“The county has been very receptive to our efforts here,” Harrop said. “They’ve bent over backwards making sure that we are getting the support we need. I think this partnership especially favors the community, because the county gets to manage a lot of the project using their own internal assets, rather than having to contract those requirements out.”

During this year’s project, Soldiers totaled over 7,022 man hours on the project, 7,352 construction equipment hours, removed 45,129 cubic yards of cut, emplaced over 36,005 cubic yards of fill and issued 170 equipment operator licenses to Soldiers. Most of the engineers worked 12-hour days, to include weekends, to maximize the amount of equipment operator time dedicated to the project.

“Every ‘Virginia for Virginians’ project is an opportunity to develop the relationship between the Virginia National Guard and its communities,” said Maj. Colin Noyes, commander of the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion. “Conducting these types of projects trains Soldiers and keeps them ready to serve their community and country.”

Soldiers also get other benefits from this training.

“I think one of the greatest benefits of this program is the sense of true satisfaction that Soldiers feel at the end of our two weeks,” Harrop said. “When we do typical training, we often dig a hole and then at the end of the day we fill the hole back in; there’s just not that sense of accomplishment that you get from doing something like this project.”

The National Guard’s IRT program is the largest of all the separate military services and components accounting for 45% of federal funded projects and programs. Past Virginia National Guard IRT projects included building the Stafford County Civil War Park in 2011 and Richmond’s Canon Creek Greenway in 2012, and the renovation of an Arizona Navajo Reservation in 2010.

“I think it’s great that Soldiers can come back in a year or two and are able to show their families what they did here,” Noyes said. “This is a great opportunity that we have to paint the picture for them on how our Soldiers are positively affecting the communities around us.”

The Innovative Readiness Training program showcases the National Guard’s citizen-Soldier role in support of eligible civilian organizations. Missions integrate required wartime sustainment training into community support projects. More than 7,000 Soldier and Airmen from over half the states and territories participation annually in IRT sponsored projects and programs in the 54 states and territories. Assistance can be provided only to eligible non-DoD organizations, and training is conducted primarily by Combat Support and Combat Service Support units in the areas of engineering, transportation, maintenance and medical assistance. The assistance provided to eligible organizations is incidental to the benefit of training. For more information, visit http://irt.defense.gov.

“These missions are nothing but a win-win for everyone involved,” Noyes said.

View and download high resolution photos on Flickr.

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