Mission plus: New York National Guard troops maximize time for lasting impact
April 18, 2014
HOHENFELS, Germany - New York National Guard engineer troops raised walls and standards during their three-week annual training at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany in March.
Originally assigned to construct one multi-use building in the training area, 80 Soldiers of the 1156th Engineer Company literally built above and beyond, raising two buildings and wiring them to boot. The engineer Soldiers, along with two airmen from the New York Air National Guard, went to Hohenfels as part of a Troop Construction Program (TCP).
The TCP leadership at Hohenfels was so pleased at what the New York engineer troops accomplished, they asked them to return every year, according to Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Smith, the 1156th Engineer Company readiness non-commissioned officer.
"No unit that's ever been there has ever done more than one building, or completed one building," said Capt. Dan Colomb, the officer-in-charge of the mission. Some of the Soldiers also inventoried, re-organized and cleaned a construction and supply yard, he added.
The 204th Engineer Battalion has many new troops who have just completed their Military Occupational Skill (MOS) training, said Smith. Normal annual training doesn't offer the chance to work on longer-term projects, he added.
The Troop Construction Program gives engineer troops a chance to work on construction projects at military installations. Smith explained that Col. James Freehart, the 204th Engineer Battalion commander, asked for the mission so the engineer Soldiers could apply their training on a such a project, gain practical experience, see the results and appreciate their skills.
Smith described it as "MOS time."
"This was a perfect opportunity to get that time on a project," Smith said.
The mission was to build a 50 by 20-foot cinder block building with a European tile roof, said Colomb, of Niskayuna, N.Y. He and another officer did some reconnaissance before the mission, toured the site where the Concrete Block and Mortar Unit (CMU) was to be built, and met with TCP personnel.
That's when they saw a chance to raise the bar, Colomb said.
"We said, 'we have 80 people, we gotta have more work,'" Colomb recalled.
From there it was on, according to Colomb.
"[The TCP personnel] had bets as to whether we'd finish it," Colomb said. The troops rose to the challenge, working most days from 7:30 a.m. to about 5:30 p.m., he added.
Though it was a very ambitious timeline, the projects stayed on track, Smith said. Troops often returned to the worksites and worked at late as 10 p.m., Smith and Colomb recalled.
"We stayed late to keep the projects on schedule," Smith said. "The guys put in a lot of outstanding effort." Some of troops, who are trained as plumbers or electricians, got a chance to do masonry and carpentry work, he added.
The extra effort paid off, and they actually finished ahead of schedule, Colomb said.
"We still had time to install the [wiring] in both units," Colomb said. Along with designing and fabricating window parts, the troops installed lights, switches and outlets, so the buildings are ready to use, he added.
Troops training in the area can utilize the buildings for a number of things, like shelters or tactical operation centers, Colomb said.
"It's a pretty big deal that we built two buildings, and did the tiling and electrical on those buildings," he said.
The engineer Soldiers also ran their own motor pool and conducted driver training, Colomb said. But the troops who worked at the construction and supply yard "knocked it out of the park," he stressed.
The yard had lacked a supply non-commissioned officer for some time, Colomb explained. During their inventory of the area, the Soldiers found and fixed several power tools that had been tagged for turn in, which should lead to some cost-savings, he added.
The training and experience was invaluable, according to Smith. What's more, the engineer troops made a lasting, practical impact, and the results speak for themselves, he added.
"Soldiers are going to live in these buildings, train in them and use them," Smith said. "They're not going to just sit there."