Va. National Guard engineers help Henry County with economic development project

Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continue construction work on an Innovative Readiness Training project for Henry County June 25, 2014 at the Patriot Centre, Martinsville, Va. IRT projects provide Soldiers opportunities for training to support their federal mission and Soldier skills while the community benefits from the final product. The 1033rd ESC expanded an access road and continued to grade the 15-acre project while completing their annual training from June 15-30, 2014. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki/Released)

Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continue construction work on an Innovative Readiness Training project for Henry County June 25, 2014 at the Patriot Centre, Martinsville, Va. IRT projects provide Soldiers opportunities for training to support their federal mission and Soldier skills while the community benefits from the final product. The 1033rd ESC expanded an access road and continued to grade the 15-acre project while completing their annual training from June 15-30, 2014. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki/Released)

MARTINSVILLE, Va – Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers loaded the last pieces of construction equipment onto trailers July 2, 2014 culminating four-weeks of grading, hauling, and filling a 15-acre industrial plot in Henry County, Va. that began May 31, 2014.

More than 100 Soldiers assigned to the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continued the construction operation started by the 180th Engineer Company two weeks before as part of their annual training. Soldiers from the unit worked hard to transform a rugged, mountainous hill to a flat usable construction site and have been cutting the tops of large uneven hills, filling large gaps and trenches, and grading the 15-acres to make it suitable for future development.

“We were here to level out the land and have it ready for construction” explained Spc. Andrew M. Ferguson, equipment operator, 1033rd Engineer Support Company. “We have a lot of new Soldiers and need to get them accustomed to the equipment to make them better prepared for missions overseas,” he added.

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.

For the Soldiers, working on the project has been a tough, but rewarding experience. “We were working anywhere from ten to twelve hours each day, with at least five or six hours on equipment each day” added Ferguson.

More than 100 Soldiers assigned to the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continued construction operation started by the 180th Engineer Company two weeks before as part of their annual training.  Soldiers from the unit worked hard to transform a rugged, mountainous hill to a flat usable construction site and have been cutting the tops of large uneven hills, filling large gaps and trenches, and grading the 15-acres to make it suitable for future development.  (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki/Released)

More than 100 Soldiers assigned to the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command continued construction operation started by the 180th Engineer Company two weeks before as part of their annual training. Soldiers from the unit worked hard to transform a rugged, mountainous hill to a flat usable construction site and have been cutting the tops of large uneven hills, filling large gaps and trenches, and grading the 15-acres to make it suitable for future development.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki/Released)

It also builds the Soldier’s military job skills.“The biggest thing, other than pushing dirt, was trying to get the younger guys to have a bit more familiarization with the equipment before we go out on a real mission,” said Spc. Issac I. Byers, equipment operator, 1033rd Engineer Support Company.

“My boys don’t get a lot of opportunities to operate this equipment” commented Capt. Michael J. Schaeffer, commander, 1033rd Engineer Support Company. “Often on our drill weekends, it is hard for our guys to get much time on the 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.

“You get an opportunity to work on a project of this size and complexity once or twice in a career, “ explained Lt. Col. Garland H. Goodrich, battalion commander, 276th Engineer Battalion. “Soldiers got more hours on equipment than some of them will for the rest of their career and leaders had to plan and manage a real construction project—you can’t simulate that in a training environment.”

During the month long project, Soldiers totaled over 24,000 man hours on the project, removed over 74,000 cubic yards of cut, and emplaced over 58,500 cubic yards of fill. Most of the engineers worked 10-hour days, to include weekends, to maximize the amount of equipment operator time dedicated to the project.

“There’s definitely always good memories that come from hanging out with your friends for two-weeks straight, but we definitely had a good time on that hill flattening it out—I mean it’s what we joined the Army to do” said Ferguson.

“I think it will greatly affect the commerce here in the area as soon as they get some building tenants,” said 1st Lieutenant Joshua Favaro, executive officer, 1033rd Engineer Support Company. “I think they’ve all had a great time and this has been a great experience for all of our Soldiers and that as far as the construction aspects are concerned, I think that there is a direct application to our war-fighting mission.”

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, Richmond’s Canon Creek Greenway in 2012, and ongoing construction work at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va. in 2014.

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