Bridging the gap
March 11, 2010
- Fort Benning's bridging company tests their skills at annual validation training
- Boat school prepares inexperienced crew members to build float bridges on water
- Training is also an opportunity to assess new boat operators
FORT BENNING, Ga. - In earthquake-devastated countries, a bridge can mean a link between a civilian getting to a medical facility or food and water being delivered where it's needed. In the combat zone, a bridge can help military forces move forward.
To keep their skills sharp for either scenario, Soldiers with the 362nd Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge), 11th Engineer Battalion, participated in Bridge Erection Boat School March 1-5 along the Chattahoochee River.
The mission of the 362nd Eng. Co. is to conduct full spectrum bridge operations to include inspections, maintenance, removal and emplacement of both tactical bridges, such as improved bridges, and line-of-communications bridges, such as the Mabey Johnson Float Bridge, capable of handling heavy military or industrial traffic. The unit heads to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., biannually to train on several types of bridges.
"We can deploy anywhere in the world to build fixed or float bridges," said SFC Julius Bryant, a bridge platoon sergeant. "So it's important to use the time we have now to train and train hard so everyone is proficient and confident in their jobs."
The five-day school focuses on basic boat operations and familiarization training and moves into the technical aspects of constructing a six-float bridge on the water. On the final day, bridge crew members conducted a record validation, where they constructed the bridge within 30 minutes. Once built, the bridge is 88 feet long and has a weight capacity of 70 tons. To construct a bridge on water, the crew is separated into a boat squad and a bay squad. The boat squad consists of the boat operator and crew members who help with retrieving bridge sections - known as bays - as they are launched into the water. The bay squad is responsible for connecting the bridge sections and ramps together as the boat squad delivers them. Both squads work under the direction of the ramp commander to guide the sections into the proper position.
"The squads work hand-in-hand, one couldn't complete the job without the other," said SSG Donald Huffman, ramp commander. "The boat squad has to be proficient at their job and the bay squad has to be quick with what they are doing."
Boat operators and ramp commanders are key components to a successful bridge construction, Bryant said.
The boat school gives NCOs and experienced boat operators the opportunity to evaluate Soldiers for their potential as future boat operators, Bryant said.
"You always want your best boat operator to hold the bridge in place," Bryant said. "As long as they can maneuver the (bridge section) and make it do what they need it to do, it makes the raft commander's job easier when he's getting those pieces together."
Huffman said the boat school training was a success. The bridge construction field times improved from 43 minutes on their first bridge March 3 to less than 17 minutes on their record validation Friday.
"They did an excellent job and this is teaching a lot of the inexperienced personnel teamwork," Huffman said.
PFC John Evans, a boat squad crew member, said the toughest part of his job is adding the final pieces to float bridges.
"The two end ramps are not as buoyant as the bays so they sit lower in the water," Evans said. "You've got to rock them and really work to find that sweet spot to get them into place."
SPC Caleb Hillyer, a boat operator, said the most rewarding part of his job is knowing his unit can lend a hand in humanitarian missions, such as in Haiti or Chile, when needed.
"I like the feeling of being able to help others out," Hillyer said.
"We can go over and lend support in flooded areas, conduct evacuations and get supplies into those areas as well as doing what we do best - bridging," Bryant said. "We can put fixed bridges on top of damaged bridges to get traffic flowing and get medical personnel where they need to go - we can bridge those gaps."