FORT JACKSON, S.C. - People form partnerships: from friendships to relationships people come together. For the 391st Engineer Battalion out of Greenville, South Carolina, those bonds are forming between organizations.
The 391st Eng. Bn. has formed partnerships with Fort Jackson, state agencies, the South Carolina Army National Guard and the Air Force and to increase their training opportunities.
The battalion has been coordinating support for Fort Jackson for more than a year and has seen great chances to hone their engineer skills through that partnership.
During the battalion's Field Training Exercise Mar. 5 to 8, projects on Fort Jackson included road improvements, erosion control measures, building a baseline for a motorpool and reconnaissance for a new berm.
"They buy the materials, we simply provide the troop labor and the equipment hours and the equipment fuel. So, it's a win-win. They get the benefit of the troop labor, we get the benefit of the training time," said Maj. Matthew Slyder, operations officer, 391st Eng. Bn., and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, native. "So, it's a mutually beneficial relationship and partnership we have with them."
Future projects for Fort Jackson include construction of the berm, laying gravel for the motorpool, improvement of ranges and more erosion control measures.
Another significant training resource is a clay barrow pit not staffed due to reduction in manning.
"A really unique opportunity for us is they have a clay barrow pit here which creates a stockpile of clay. No one is in that clay pit anymore creating stockpile. So, when we do roadwork, there is not clay readily stockpiled that we can go grab, bring out and lay down on the road as part of the base," said Slyder. "The opportunity is for Soldiers who don't have a lot of experience, it's easy stick time, because they go into a clay pit and dig out clay from the earth and create a stockpile. So, it's a very low-level skill requirement."
With all the construction possibilities on Fort Jackson, Soldiers can easily improve their engineer skills no matter if they are new or experts in the field.
"From skill level one to skill level 40 we've got some great training opportunities with the work that Fort Jackson needs help with," said Slyder.
In addition to the partnership with Fort Jackson, the 323rd Engineer Company, a unit belonging to the 391st Eng. Bn. has created a relationship to help their engineer skills.
They have partnered with Camp Croft, a state recreational park run by the Game and Wildlife Commission in South Carolina. During the FTX, the 323nd cleared some trees out from a recent storm for Camp Croft. They've also created training opportunities by clearing an area used by their area clearance platoon as well as using perimeter roads for route clearance companies.
In addition to these partnerships focusing on construction and route clearance skills, the 391st Eng. Bn. also found an opportunity to improve their multi-role bridge company's training.
During their FTX, leadership of the 391st Eng. Bn. met leaders of the 122nd Engineer Battalion, a South Carolina National Guard unit with a similar structure. What struck the leaders most was both battalions have a multi-role bridge company.
"We're really fostering that relationship because we each have one multi-role bridge company," said Slyder. "Bridge companies are very hard to come by in the Guard and the Reserve and even in the active component: they're a rare animal."
Seeing the similarities, the battalions discussed a joint FTX for next year at a lake where the National Guard trains.
"The plan tentatively is to have our multi-role bridge company come up, meet at this lake, their battalion can come over, meet there, we can also bring all of our other units and have this combined battalion-battalion FTX," said Lt. Col. Steven Hayden, commander, 391st Eng. Bn., and Griffin, Georgia, native. "Our bridge companies have equipment that marries together. We bring half of our equipment, they bring half of their equipment and we make one major bridge crossing exercise."
The multi-role bridge company doesn't get many opportunities to practice their craft so learning of this training area will help in their development
"It's created not only that future partnership, but also opened up the door to more training areas and more training assets for our units, training sites that were there that we didn't even know existed, right down the road from us," said Slyder. "It fosters new relationships that will lead to future events that are only going to help the quality of our training, the quantity of our training and partnership with our training."
The battalion also partnered with the South Carolina National Guard for Vigilant Guard during the FTX. Vigilant Guard is a training exercise to allow State National Guards to respond to multiple, geographically disparate, catastrophic disasters in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities environment in order to strengthen regional partnerships, validate crisis action plans, and demonstrate the functionality of the Shared Situational Awareness COP tool. The 357th and 712th Engineer Support Companies inprocessed as if they had been mobilized for disaster relief. The Reserve is used during emergency response if National Guard and state agencies need additional support.
"We embraced that DSCA mission, realizing as engineers we have a lot of assets, not only as engineers, but our (Forward Support Company) has support assets, fuel assets, cooking assets, all those type things, in addition to quite a bit of engineer equipment," said Hayden. "We could support a national disaster if one were to come up.
"The gist of this is: it's a mock event so a hurricane has just hit South Carolina. They're in dire straits and have tapped out their recourses that they have in terms of internally, both through their state department, their local authorities and with their national guard and they need some additional recourses, so the exercise this weekend and our play in it specifically was a notional alert from the South Carolina authorities for some Title 10 support. In this case it's Title 10 Reserve engineer support," added Hayden.
Another partnership developed from being co-located with aviation assets of the South Carolina National Guard.
"So, again about a year out, we started coordinating with some of those assets to try to get some airlift opportunities for our Soldiers and we were successful in that," said Hayden. "We've got a great opportunity for 30 of our Soldiers to get on a (CH 47) Chinook and be able to fly back to Greenville in redeployment from this FTX."
The 391st Eng. Bn. plans to continue that relationship to provide opportunities for both the engineer and aviation Soldiers.
"We're excited about that partnership as well and hope to be able to use some of those air assets in the future," Hayden added.
The National Guard wasn't the only air support partnership the 391st Eng. Bn. pursued.
"Another big partnership gain we had with our unit was a partnership with the Air Force," said Hayden. "For (our Combat Support Training Exercise), this is huge, through coordination and a lot of the planning conferences we were able to coordinate Air Force lift for roughly 95% of our troops and equipment to be able to deploy to CSTX."
Partnering with another service also allowed the 391st Eng. Bn. to save money.
"That's something that probably not a lot of Reserve units get the opportunity to do, but again it's a true focus and a true passion that we're trying to drive through the battalion on developing partnerships and that one is one that paid off," said Hayden. "It really paid off with a savings of about $150,000 in overall funds by being able to secure that lift to CSTX."
Slyder feels like the opportunity is straight from the silver screen.
"It's a true deployment in that we will load the aircraft and deploy directly to Fort McCoy, off-load the aircraft then the (Soldiers) will follow," said Slyder. "In a matter of three days, we'll have our entire unit downloaded to Fort McCoy, (Wisconsin), and roll out to our (training location), just like you envision in the movies when the Army deploys. We don't deploy that way, but in the movies we do! We get to do the Hollywood deployment! It's pretty exciting."
For Hayden these partnerships are important due to training and financial restraints.
"Our theme is partnerships and I think in this financially strained environment our partnerships is what's going to allow units to excel in training," he said. "Without partnerships and without combining resources it's going to be very difficult for units to excel when it comes to training."
Training and financial limitations are not the only reason Hayden and Slyder believe in continuing these partnership.
"In the case of some of the partnerships with the Army National Guard, it's getting Soldiers what we've been used to over the past 12/13 years we've been at war. While we've been at war, there hasn't been a nametape that said Army Reserve, Army National Guard, active duty. We're all the same and I think we've got to keep that same partnership because in the event of a conflict in the future, it's going to be the same way," said Hayden. "We're one team, one fight. We've got to make sure we continue to train that way. The other option is we go back to where we were 12/13 years ago where you had the National Guard Soldiers, the Reserve Soldiers and you had active duty Soldiers. I think partnership is key to keeping the momentum of a true joint force."
"I think the other element of this is, what's really critical right now is we have a lot of new Soldiers that weren't here 12 to 13 years ago when we were more divided components and now that we're learning to operate together more after war and in training environments, the new generation of Soldiers is getting to experience a more integrated Army," added Slyder. "While we as senior leaders remember days when the Army was more divided and then integrated in war and now we're transitioning into this new part, this new generation will grow up in the Army that's already nested and integrated with each other. When they are the senior leaders in the future they'll only continue to grow on that path that they see now."
The 391st Eng. Bn. believes these partnerships are key to developing Soldiers with limited resources and continuing to maintain the integrated service developed through conflict. The battalion is intent on continuing the relationship building they have already begun and any more that will benefit the engineers, the units, the Army and the nation.