Engineers take out damaged bridge as part of field training exercise Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 November 2013
Story and photos by  Robert Johnson
Managing editor

An axiom among Soldiers is that the more realistic the training, the better the training, and for bridge crewmembers from Company C, 31st Engineer Battalion, it rang true Oct. 28.    

On their final field training exercise before graduation, the Soldiers were tasked with recovery of an M2 Bailey Bridge — a mission that all bridging engineers could face.  
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Soldiers from Company C, 31st Engineer Battalion, carry an iron span from the bridge site. Each panel and girder weighs more than 500 pounds.

However, the bridge Company C would recover had been in place for several years on FLW 28, making the exercise a true test of what may await these Soldiers when deployed.

“This bridge has been here for probably 20 to 30 years,” said Dave Hatch, 35th Engineer Battalion bridge instructor. “Many of the bolts are rusted, making removal just a little more difficult.”

The bridge, which had spanned a creek bed on the road to Training Area 230, was heavily damaged during flooding in August of this year, said John Tyree, 35th Engineer bridge instructor.

“When the flood waters came up, it weakened the bridge abutments, making it dangerous to cross. Both banks were eroded away, so the decision was made to remove the bridge,” Tyree said.

With a week of prep work, which included positioning new rollers to move the bridge and spraying every bolt, nut and connector with a penetrating oil, Tyree said the instructors were confident they could recover they bridge with enough manpower.

On Oct. 28 with 26 Soldiers from Company C, recovery of the bridge began and immediately ran into its first real-world issue — a tree with 20 to 30 years growth had grown through one of the girders.  

“We had to remove the tree trunk so that the bridge can roll back from the creek,” said Pvt. John Richards, Co. C, 31st Engr. Bn. ‘It was stuck in there real good, so we cut it out.”

Spc. Jeremiah Kennedy, Co. C, 31st Engr. Bn., said the removal made the training he received even more valuable.

“This is definitely something we could see deployed,” Kennedy said alluding to the condition of the connectors and undergrowth. “It’s not a classroom out here, so you really learn how to do this (recovery) under difficult conditions.”

Once the tree was out, the bridge rolled back and the Soldiers began to disassemble the structure.

“Each panel weighs about 500 pounds, so it takes many hands to make light work,” Tyree said. “Each panel, girder, connector and decking will be returned into Army inventory and once inspected and cleaned up, will be used to train other bridge crew members. In fact, when we would inventory our bridge material, we would always have to come out here and count the parts on this bridge.”

“Normally, it would take about two hours using 46 students and three instructors to take a bridge this size apart, but in this condition in the field with about half that (Soldiers), we can expect to take about six hours,” Tyree said.

Building or recovering a bridge is part of the bridge crewmembers’ Culminating Engineer Field Training Exercise, said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Malek, Co. C., 31st Engr. Bn. drill sergeant.  

‘This happens to be the first day of their five-day exercise,” Malek said. “On Friday, the company will ruck-march 16k back and conduct their Right of Passage ceremony. They are scheduled to graduate on Nov. 8.”

The M2 Bailey Bridge is a medium girder bridge used by several countries around the world. It is a pre-fabricated truss bridge, which was originally developed for forces in World War II. It requires no special tools or cranes to erect.

The water crossing on FLW 28 will remain a concrete ford until a more permanent culvert system can be installed, officials said.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 November 2013 )