FORT DRUM, N.Y. - After some fast repair work on their crusher here in mid-May, the New York Army National Guard's 204th Engineer Detachment (Quarry) is set to turn big rocks into fine-ground construction materials during their annual training (AT) period here in July, according to 1st Lt. Matthew Mansfield, the detachment commander.
"We needed to get everything fixed before AT, so hopefully we can just turn everything on and get it running and go straight to crushing rock," said Mansfield, of Horseheads, N.Y.
The detachment is part of the 204th Engineer Battalion, which is based in Binghamton, N.Y.
Running their crusher is the main mission of the detachment, which is one of about a dozen such units in the entire U.S. Army, according to Mansfield. The crusher is actually a sprawling array of several crushing machines, conveyer belts, screens, a washing unit, five diesel engines, three 480-volt generators and other machinery.
"If all the components were being used, we could actually make sand out of a rock the size of a footlocker," said Staff Sgt. Charles Mann, the detachment quarry foreman and resident of Montrose, Pennsylvania.
Most of the material they produce is used in road construction and repair, Mansfield said. They're like a civilian quarry operation, but with a crucial difference that made their May training days invaluable, he added.
Civilian quarry operations conduct maintenance over the winter, and are only active in the spring, summer and fall - a time that's called the "crushing season," he explained. The detachment doesn't have a winter maintenance period, so they use their spring training days to conduct maintenance, he said.
This year their maintenance involved a "laundry list of repairs" that they'd identified last AT -- including malfunctioning motors, failing conveyor belts and faulty screens, which filter stones by size so they can go through the crusher, Mansfield said.
"And that's what we focused on in May," he recalled.
That focus began on Friday, May 13, when the unit drove up to Fort Drum. The next morning, the troops drew their bulldozers, front-end loaders, dump trucks, and other vehicles from the New York Army National Guard Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site (MATES) and headed out to the southeast corner of the post, where the crusher sits in the roughly 3-acre space of training area 14A, Mansfield said.
"We actually take up an entire training area," he said.
The troops started making the repairs around noon, Mansfield and Mann said. The conveyor belts were "worn, not tracking right," said Mann, and the primary crusher's conveyor belt - which is made of about 70 feet of unwieldy, three-ply rubber - was the most challenging to fix.
"It literally took everybody to get it in and around the rollers," Mann said.
Nonetheless, the troops completed the repairs by 9:45 p.m., "working in the dark," said Mansfield. Now the outlook is good for AT, he added.
"Our goal is to have the rock crusher up and running within 48 hours," he said.
Though it felt good to complete the repairs, having time to actually operate the equipment is also very important, Mann said. Using the equipment works out the kinks, he explained.
"You have to run it to get everything worked out," he said.
Though the detachment has a dozen drivers who haul rock and other material for the crusher, most of the Soldiers operate the crusher, which is a "pretty unique" mission, Mansfield said. The specific military occupational skill (MOS) is 12G, "quarrying specialist."
"Not a lot of people go through that training," he said.
Mansfield said he enjoys the mission.
"Honestly, as an engineer, I like to destroy things," he joked. "But really, it's a unique opportunity to lead a group of people with highly-specialized skill sets."
Many of those troops work as drivers and heavy-equipment operators in the civilian sector, Mansfield said -- so they've kept their skills honed on their own.
"Most of the troops that I have, what they do in the National Guard is what they do on the civilian side," he said. "They've found ways to keep trained and qualified on the civilian side with their jobs. It really helps out when we go to produce material for other units in the battalion."
Detachment troops will be operating the crusher and producing material for just over a week of their AT period, and then they'll be undergoing demolition training for two to three days at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, according to Maj. Chad Clark, the 204th Engineer Battalion operations officer.
The material the troops produce will yield future training benefits for the 204th Engineer Battalion, Clark said. During ATs beginning in fiscal year 2017, battalion troops will use the crushed stone to improve drainage around the New York Army National Guard MATES at Fort Drum, he explained