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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District members participate in a Situational Training Exercise in the district's emergency operations center May 4, 2009. These exercises, as well as the hands-on experience they receive during field exercises prepare the engineer support teams for future deployments.

WIESBADEN, Germany - A Forward Engineer Support Team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District is scheduled to deploy April 20 to provide field force engineering support to Joint Task Force Alaska's Arctic Edge, the Alaska National Guard's Vigilant Guard and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management's Alaska Shield at various locations around Alaska.

The exercises allow the members to put their training to the test - both on an individual level and as a team - and help them synchronize engineering support efforts with other engineer teams for future contingency operations, said Lt. Col. Damon Montgomery, the district's plans officer.

"These exercises help the members get comfortable in their own skill sets and get comfortable with each other so they can work more effectively as a team," he said. "But even more, the preparation they get from executing these tasks outside of their normal operational areas is invaluable in the case that they're tapped for a deployment."

In essence, the team learns each other's strengths and weaknesses before they deploy, said Tammie Stouter, a district regional program manager for Wiesbaden and the team leader.

"It helps us form a team before we get boots on the ground to do a real job," she said. "We know who can work the equipment the best, who's a good problem solver, who's a better briefer ... It allows us to mesh as a unit before we do the real task."

Although the members receive training throughout the year, these exercises are also used to validate the team's capabilities before they are moved into the "ready cycle" for potential FEST deployments, Montgomery said.

"These exercises allow the team to interact with people in the engineering community where they can learn valuable lessons that can be applied later during deployments," he said. "They may also find themselves later working alongside some of them down range."

During the three exercises, which are being conducted in conjunction with each other, the team will be working with civil and military response elements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, joint medical teams, and Alaska state agencies including the National Guard and transportation department.

During the disaster exercise, the team will be utilizing the Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit and the "It Knows Everything" device to conduct road and river reconnaissance from the air and on the ground as part of the response effort. The team will also use the ARRK and IKE to perform bridge assessments, including classification and river characterization like flow routes, gap width and depth, to help guide decisions for fording and bridging - something the team is looking forward to.

"The team is looking forward to putting this state-of-the-art technology to use in the field," Stouter said. "It's all new. It's exciting. It's like a whole new project. And it also gives us a chance to get away from the daily grind of our everyday work."

The team will receive more intense training on both pieces of equipment from a team of trainers from the Engineer Research and Development Center once they land in Alaska, Montgomery said.

"Our team is comprised of 100 percent volunteers - all with regular jobs around the district - so they get a limited amount of time during the year to train with their FEST teammates using the FFE [field force engineering] equipment," he said. "This is in stark contrast to newer teams recently activated in other districts where all the military and civilian members are permanently assigned to the team and spend most of their time training."

The ARRK is continuously surveying the area so it provides the team with an immediate visual recording, said Darrell Cullins, one of the team members who recently tested the ARRK during the joint military exercise Natural Fire 10 in Uganda.

"It gives us the ability to survey roads to give us an idea of surface material and conduct bridge assessments to determine what equipment can be transported over the bridges," he said. "With this information, we can brief the commanders on recommended courses of action and provide technical advice to the engineers who will be reconstructing bridges."

The ARRK simplifies the process for conducting ground reconnaissance missions by easing the burden of collecting data in the field through various technologies and enables operators to quickly hand off data for analysis. The ARRK may be used on a wide spectrum of mounted (ground or air) reconnaissance missions or special data collection needs, according to the ERDC fact sheet.

The IKE, a hand-held data collection device, allows users to determine exact locations from up to 1,000 meters away quickly and accurately by using GPS signals. The small device can also take photographs of the corresponding location.

Page last updated Wed April 7th, 2010 at 09:45