BEACON, NY-- Trekking up the 1600 feet of rugged, unforgiving terrain of Mount Beacon, "citizen Soldiers" of the New York Army National Guard's 1156th Engineer Company spent two weeks sharpening their skills, as well as learning new ones refurbishing the fire observation tower located at its summit.

"The project request started out as a complete overhaul for the tower to include painting, adjusting handrail heights, adding fencing, and rebuilding the cabin atop the tower," said Cpt. Daniel L. Colomb, commander of the 1156th Engineer Company.

"We are basically trying to make it safer," said Spc. Osse Jean-Pierre, a carpenter assigned to the 1156th who also performs part-time general maintenance in his civilian job. "We replaced some rails, changed all the top panels, and painted it so it won't rust."

Built in 1931 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, the Mount Beacon Fire Observation Tower requires serious repairs and updates to modern building codes before it can be approved public use by state engineers.

"It's all about preserving a historic site that showcases the beauty and heritage of the Mid- Hudson Valley," said Colomb. "Thousands of people walk the trails around Mount Beacon each year. Some use the trails for exercise and some simply enjoy a nice hike or picnic with family and friends."

Mount Beacon, located near the City of Beacon, is the highest point in the Hudson Highlands chain of hills. The Mount Beacon fire tower, used until 1975 for fire watching duties, commands a 75-mile view of the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.

History aside, this project has gotten the community involved and excited about this project.

"I've heard stories from hikers and local residents that describe their excitement in getting to finally go to the top and visit the tower after all these years," Colomb said. "One gentleman even told me how excited he was to take his father up the mountain to see the tower that he hasn't seen since he was his son's age."

"We have a retired Sgt. 1st Class that comes up here every day," said 1st Sgt. Gregory Sinclair. "He is very excited about getting up there just for the view."

Colomb also added that the community at large is happy to see progress come from the many donations made to the historical society and specifically the Beacon Fire Observation Tower restoration project.

Community support notwithstanding, projects like these benefit the Soldiers, both personally and professionally.

"These community based projects are priceless training opportunities for my Soldiers," said Colomb. "Not only are they able to train and exercise their MOS (Military Occupational Specialties) skills, but they are also able to do it in a 'real life' environment."

"I get a feeling of accomplishment and feel good because we are doing something good for the community," said Jean-Pierre. "Personally I love doing things to help other people, especially something I can use at my civilian job."

"The biggest thing about this project is that it's something different," Sinclair said . "It's nice for these guys and for the unit to do something for someone other than the military.

"When we do something at Camp Smith ( New York's state training facility) who sees it? Not many, but when we do something like this thousands of people will be able to use it and enjoy it," added Sinclair.

The project helped the engineer Soldiers learn to adapt, which helps prepare them to respond to state emergencies or challenges on active duty, Colomb said.

"Training piece aside the biggest thing these projects provide my Soldiers is critical thinking and problem solving skills," said Colomb. "There is no great way to train a Soldier to react to the many situations they may encounter in a natural disaster or war-time situation. These projects give my Soldiers that ability."

No strangers to serving both the military and civilian communities, the Soldiers of the 1156th have had a busy year, he added.

"We've done quite a few projects this year," said Sinclair. "Throw in our response to Tropical Storm Irene and Lee in Greene and Schoharie counties (in August and September. 2011) , our part in the Homeland Response Force (HRF) and CERFP (CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages), and it's been a busy year."

Sinclair also added that in the past year the 1156th has completed Phase II of the Cohoes, NY, Erie Canal cleanup and Restoration Project, constructed new ranges and barracks bathrooms at Camp Smith Training Area, Cortlandt Manor, NY, successfully completed a HRF validation exercise at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, NY, and assisted their Puerto Rican National Guard search and extraction counterparts in a "Go" on their CERFP validation exercise.

Page last updated Wed September 12th, 2012 at 13:30