FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. - In swarms, engineer Soldiers muster together to breach, build and engage in every aspect of military engineering operations for Operation River Assault 2015 at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, July 25 to Aug. 7.
Soldiers from each component: Army Reserve, National Guard and active duty work together to accomplish this year's annual exercise by combining in partnership forces, which improve every facet of the engineer skillset.
Most of the Soldiers participating in River Assault are part-time citizen-Soldiers. They don't have the time or opportunity to train every day, but this exercise is their yearly opportunity to come together to hone their skills as they complete the mission, not in just their lane but learning about the total engineer mission.
"I've done a lot of this training before at previous River Assaults, but I'm excited this year because this will be the first year I'll get to work with the (CH-47) Chinook helicopters and building the bridge. That's something I've never done," said Spc. Dustin Willet, 346th Engineer Company, a Washington, North Carolina, native and a 15-year combat engineer who's served as an active Army explosive expert for previous River Assault operations.
The integration of the different training helps makes every Soldier better at their skills, contributing to the team overall.
"This type of training keeps us sharp and continues to build the type of partnerships and relationships we need to have now and in the future," said Col. Ralph Henning, commander, 411th Engineer Brigade, from Denver.
The Army's engineer units are concentrated heavily in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, but after fighting alongside the active duty component, leaders want to continue combined training and preparation for any future operations where everyone will be working together.
"Having the different components here at River Assault is a huge benefit," said Henning. "Because we've worked together for the last 13 years as one total Army force, and we can lose that if we just come back home and train just within our own individual components."
River Assault is an Army Reserve sponsored exercise. To make the exercise better rounded, some of the behind-the-scenes effort was to reach out to the active component partners and ask "would you like to come to River Assault," according to Henning.
"They were definitely excited about the opportunity to cross the river," he added.
Operation River Assault mainly focuses on constructing an approximately 300-meter floating bridge across the Arkansas River, but there's more going on than just down by the river. Soldiers are training on vehicle familiarization, driving and safety; weapons familiarization and firing; demolitions; roadside bomb detection and defeat; construction and repair; breaching minefields; clearing buildings through urban operations and that doesn't include all of the other training that goes into the bridge building aspect of River Assault.
"The training is awesome," said combat engineer Spc. Travis Duffus, 841st Engineer Battalion, a Miami, resident. "It's been a lot of high-speed training. I didn't expect the helocast, where you drop from a helicopter into the river, and I loved driving the armored personnel carriers. That was a blast. I also enjoyed doing the vehicle rollover training."
Henning felt every part of the training was useful, but wanted every Soldier to get the most out of the opportunity.
"Mission accomplishment for me is for the Soldiers to come away learning something and feeling a little more confident in their skills," said Henning. "I want every Soldier come away feeling they've improved ... that the training is relevant."
The engineer Soldiers are openly excited about the daily individual and team training going on during River Assault as End-Ex comes closer.
"Morale is pretty high," said Henning. "You can feel the energy when talking to the Soldiers, as we get closer to the river-crossing event. They're pretty excited."
The finale of the training exercise is when ground, water and air units work together using trucks, CH-47 Chinook helicopters and boats to maneuver the floating bays into place until creating an entire bridge.
"I'll feel pretty good when that bridge is done," said Henning. "That's a pretty good sign, telling me the entire team worked together, in the background as well as on the river, then everyone will be successful."