By Ms. Tiffany D Wood (Leonard Wood)March 24, 2016
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 24, 2016) -- A bridge toppled by heavy flooding in January is providing one Fort Leonard Wood company "a training opportunity of a lifetime," according to many of the unit's Soldiers.
For nearly two weeks, about 40 Soldiers with the 595th Engineer Company have been tearing down and clearing the 90,000-pound aluminum bridge that spanned 890 feet across the Big Piney River in the vicinity of Happy Hollow.
"This type of bridge training is very rare," said Sgt. 1st Class Hiram Mingo, 595th Engineer Company acting first sergeant. "Some of these Soldiers will probably never have this opportunity again. I've got 22 years in the military, and this is my first time actually tearing down a bridge of this scale."
The 595th Engineer Company's project officer, 1st Lt. Ryan Hall, agreed.
"This is something that normally doesn't happen," Hall said. "Typically, when you put a bridge in, it's not something you expect to come up and off the embankment. This is fantastic training."
The unit began tearing down the bridge on March 15 and expects to complete the job Friday. Soldiers have been using heavy equipment, such as the M88 Recovery Vehicle, and exothermic cutting torches, to extract and dismantle the bridge.
Spc. Scott Byleckie, 595th Engineer Company, has enjoyed the hands-on training the bridge removal has offered. He said conducting realistic training versus notional has been irreplaceable.
"It's something that normally doesn't get done -- you can't really 'fake' taking down a bridge," Byleckie said. "This is about as realistic as it's going to get. When you have hands-on (training), it's really good."
The training was also physically demanding, said Spc. Kenneth Tate, 595th Engineer Company.
"A couple Soldiers and I had to actually crawl over the bridge, while it was tilted over to tie in so we could use the 88s to pull it out," Tate said. "It's real physical work, but being an engineer, the majority of the work is physical."
The bridge removal project not only provided realistic training, it also kept the installation from contracting the work, which, according to Gary Roberts, Directorate of Public Works chief of engineer design, only made sense.
"The bridge removal was an unusual thing, not something we do every day," Roberts said. "Our first thought was going to the engineers -- they had the equipment and knowledge, and it was a very good experience for them."
Roberts said turning to the engineers also saved the installation time.
"Just the contracting piece would have taken three weeks'" he said. "We couldn't have even contracted the work in the amount of time it has taken the unit to complete the work."
Pieces of the dismantled bridge frame will go to the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex for display, and to the Sapper Leader Course for training purposes, according to Hall.