Army and Air Guard engineers improve communities with service projects

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command work to clear a path for the Cannon Creek pedestrian and bike trail July 17 in Richmond. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard)

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Army and Air Guard engineers put their skills, experience and equipment to work for community service projects in Richmond and Stafford County in late July and early August. Not only did the projects help the two communities, they also gave the Soldiers and Airmen valuable real-world training they can put to use for both their federal and state missions. Both projects were part of the Innovative Readiness Training program that allows Army and Air Guard engineers to put their military skills to work on community service projects approved by National Guard Bureau. Work began last summer on the initial phases of both projects.

Approximately 40 Soldiers from the Virginia Guard’s Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command spent their two weeks of annual training from July 15-27 working on Phase II of the Cannon Creek Greenway bicycle and pedestrian trail in Richmond. The work brought the road to final grade in order to prepare the road for paving immediately following the engineers construction, and the work performed is valued at $350,000. Phase I of the project has been paved and is actively used by members of the community.

Soldiers from the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command prepare roads for the future Stafford County Civil War Park July 24 in Stafford County. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“The community is getting get cost savings on the project itself, and they are getting a good product,” said Capt. Michael J. Schaeffer, commander of the 1033rd Engineer Company. “We are getting real world experience with our training.” The training helps the unit prepare for both its state and federal missions, he said.

“The Soldiers are getting a sense of accomplishment with what they are doing and seeing the fruits of their labor,” Schaeffer added.

“This trail has created an entirely new image for what this community is all about,” said Richmond City Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson of  the Gateway 6th Voter District. “It would not be possible without the services of the National Guard.”

Robertson explained that the completed trail will be a connector to a larger greenway project that will originate in Boston and run through Virginia. It is also an important part of the community development that will attract new residents, increase property values and encourage residents to take part in healthy outdoor activities, she said.

Soldiers removed more than 516 tons of debris, moved more than 1,200 cubic feet of dirt and graded and compacted 1,350 square feet of trail during the Cannon Creek project, Schaeffer said.

The Petersburg-based Forward Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion provided logistical support for the units on site and kept them fed and fueled and additional Soldiers and equipment from the Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company also took part in the mission.

The Stafford County project was a joint effort from Army and Air National Guard engineer units. About 80 Soldiers from the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command cleared sizable undergrowth, hauled fill and prepared roadways for paving as a part of Phase II of the planned Stafford County Civil War Park project from July 15 to 27.  Soldiers used heavy construction equipment to move large quantities of dirt, gravel and other fill, install drainage culverts and perform general cut, fill and compaction tasks throughout the area. A small group of Soldier continued working into early August to finish preparations for road paving and hand the project over to the Air Guard.

The Stafford Civil War Park will preserve three large Union battery fortifications, a Union Army winter encampment remains, two corduroy roads and a pre-Civil War sandstone bridge ruin on property recently preserved by Stafford County and the City of Fredericksburg at the request of the Friends of the Stafford Civil War Sites. These sites were occupied in force by the Union Army’s 11th Corps, 1st and 3rd Divisions between Feb. 28 and June 12, 1863. During the winter of 1863, more than 130,000 soldiers encamped throughout Stafford County and more than 3,500 died during these encampments.

Approximately 16 Air Guard engineers from the Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron followed the Army engineers at the Stafford County project and laid down more than 980 tons of asphalt to pave almost a mile of 18-foot wide roadway in the park. Between July 30 and Aug. 10, they paved the roadways prepared by the Army engineers after completing fine grading, staking and surveying and widening of the road.

Airmen from the Virginia Beach based-203rd RED HORSE Squadron lay asphalt August 2 on the newly-prepared roads for the future Stafford County Civil War Park in Stafford County. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Meghan Skrepenski, Virginia Air National Guard Public Affairs)

“The main purpose of having the RED HORSE working on this project is because we are self-sustainable with equipment and manpower for the task,” said 1st Lt. Eddie Abisaab, 203 RHS Air Fields officer in charge. “This is a project that makes everyone happy because of the historical value, people will be visiting the park learning more about the Civil War and our history and it is a big motivation for the Airmen working here today.”

Retired Air Force Col. Glenn Trimmer, co-founder of the Friends of Stafford County Civil War Sites, gave a historical tour of several of the sites being preserved by the project and thinks the lineage of the 276th Engineers as the 1st Virginia Regiment brings special meaning to the project. Many of the Union soldiers who once were encamped in Stafford County during the Civild War directly confronted soldiers of the 1st Virginia Regiment at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

“It shows how far this country has come when decendents of Confederate soldiers come here to do selfless work to remember the Union soldiers who encampmed on this ground,” he said.

Trimmer expressed his appreciation for the hard work performed by the Army and Air Guard personnel, and was impressed by their attitudes. “They smile all the time, they are absolutely positive, optimistic and aggressive,” he said. “They are the reason this park will exist,” he added.

“There is great training value in working with the Army, and it’s been a excellent partnership on this project,” said Lt. Col. Pete Garner, 203rd RHS commander. “This is a terrific opportunity training on a piece of equipment we don’t get much time to train on, especially in an environment that is not just straight and flat, with the different angles, and curves, slopes, and drainage required for this project.  This is a outstanding opportunity for the Airmen to get different training that we wouldn’t get at the base, plus we get to help out a community that probably wouldn’t be able to do this kind of work. It’s win-win for both units and the county.”

According to Capt. Jesse Kopzinski, commander of the 180th Engineer Company, Army engineers at the Stafford County project put in almost 7,700 man hours of work with nearly 2,700 hours on almost 60 pieces of construction equipment and about 50 hours of chainsaw operation time. They hauled more than 160 loads of debris and 4,500 tons of gravel, graded and compacted 3,500 linear feet of roadway and installed 155 linear feet of culverts.

Additional reporting by Tech. Sgt. Meghan Skrepenski

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View photos on Flickr:

203rd RED HORSE Squadron Airmen prepare road for Stafford County Civil War Park
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157630887970600/

Virginia Guard Soldiers clear the way for Stafford County park project
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157630732317516/

Senior leaders and government officials tour Stafford County park project
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157630664474502/

Senior leaders and government officials tour Cannon Creek project
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157630650157606/

Soldiers clear path for Cannon Creek recreational trail
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157630630568792/