By Story and photos by Spc. Justin Snyder, 354th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentAugust 8, 2013
FORT CHAFFEE, Ark -- When describing the terrain and sights of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the words dry, desert, snow, mountain, tank and Humvee may come to mind immediately.
It is often forgotten, however, that these countries' landscapes also consists of large water sources such as the Helmland and Kabul rivers in Afghanistan and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers' in Iraq.
With every river, stream or lake comes the obstacle of reaching the sometimes-desolate towns and areas bordering these water sources. Due to these reasons it is not uncommon for terrorists to take cover in these small towns and for the people living there to go unnoticed.
"When you're talking about war and finding the bad guys, they are not always exactly the easiest to find," said Staff Sgt. Kristopher McDonald, 671st Engineer Company (Multi Role Bridge).
To ensure that no stone is left unturned and that every citizen receives critical help and attention, there is a need to cross these large water sources. That is where units like the 671st Eng. Co. (MRB) come into play.
The Engineers provide the ability to cross these water sources by providing boats that can assist in creating four-way ramp rafts, also known as six-floats and shore to shore full-enclosure floating roadways.
McDonald's past deployments in Iraq in 2003 and 2008 required bridges being built to help sustain a presence in hard to reach areas and the ability to provide important supply to troops.
"Waterways can be a huge obstacle for the movement of our troops and their ability to complete their mission," said McDonald, a native of Monroe, Wash. "There wasn't always the option to just go around it and even if there was, sometimes it was easier and quicker to just build a bridge."
To prepare for the possibility that they will be needed overseas, the Army Reserve soldiers are partaking in Operation River Assault here from July 14 until July 24.
The operation is an exercise that combines warrior-skills training with a river-crossing mission, bridging together nearly 1,000 soldiers from a variety of Reserve and active duty units: engineers, medics, military police and dive specialists, as well as support personnel.
Specifically pertaining to the 671st Eng. Co. (MRB) engineers, it provides them the ability to test and familiarize themselves with their boats and equipment on various lakes and rivers. The exercise culminates with a large-scale wet gap crossing exercise on the Arkansas River where they will construct a full-enclosure floating roadway.
They take opportunities like this seriously and take advantage of the ability to train on a fast water river.
"It's not hard for us to take the boats out for a day and train on the lake at Fort Lewis," said McDonald, whose unit's are housed in Clackamas, Ore., and Marysville, Wash. "But to get out on an actual river with (realistic) scenery and typical landscape features can be hard to come by."
"So we look forward to being able to hone our skills here at Operation River Assault and want to be able to leave here saying we did our very best and didn't waste the opportunity," added McDonald.
Even with a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan diminishing, Spc. Josef Bennett believes the training is critical in keeping the Soldiers on their toes for future deployments, wherever it may take them. Bennett is currently serving as an engineer with the 671st Eng. Co. (MRB).
"No matter where you are in this world, there is always going to be water," said Bennett, a native of Salem, Ore. "This world is a crazy place, so you never know where you might be headed. For those reasons we take every opportunity to get better and ensure we are ready at the flip of a switch."