By Emily Athens, USAG SchweinfurtMarch 6, 2009
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - In an effort to improve parts of the training area near here, dubbed Area Mike, the U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt Directorate of Public Works (DPW) has partnered with the 500th Engineer Horizontal Company of the 15th Engineer Battalion, which arrived to Schweinfurt in 2008.
"This is a coordination between the troops and DPW, and a coordination between the U.S. Army and the host nation. It's an overall stewardship supporting the environment and training," said Lothar Rueckert, chief of the environmental division at DPW.
In collaboration with area improvements, the engineer troops are assisting in relocating biotopes, or habitats, occupied by a species of frogs that could potentially be disturbed. This type of labor is not only supporting their training, but maintaining the environment as well, explained Rueckert.
"The technique we use to dig the biotopes for frogs is the same we use to build tank ditches for vehicles.
Just because we are not digging specifically to our mission does not mean we are not getting any training value and honing our skills from this project," said 1st Lt. Brent Johnson, a platoon leader involved in the projects, explaining that the experience not only tests the skills of the company, but it builds individual capabilities that can be translated to missions within a combat environment.
"It's inevitable that we're going to deploy, so our job as leaders is to make sure our guys get trained," said Capt. Randy Simon, 500th Company commander.
Initially, the government planned to conduct a two-year study to learn what types of frog species inhabit the biotopes before digging began. However, with joint efforts of the chief forester, DPW, and the help of engineer Soldiers, it was consolidated into a four-week project.
Within the short time period, however, Soldiers advanced their reconnaissance skills, enhanced their tactical abilities, and increased their technical knowledge, focusing on sustainable military occupational specialty skills for engineers.
Despite facing challenges along the way, the Soldiers of the horizontal construction company still enjoyed the labor enduring any hardships along the way, according to Simon and Johnson.
"The biggest thing with earth-moving is that you're always fighting the weather," Johnson said, adding that operating the equipment also poses a challenge.
These issues, however, have not hindered the productivity of the Soldiers as they continue to work hard to obtain the valuable training. According to Simon, company commander, the entire process has created a professional exercise for his Soldiers as they worked through environmental issues, logistical issues, and everyday challenges.
"The morale overall has skyrocketed just because they get to go out there and do what they went into the Army to do. Any Army Soldier would rather be out in the field doing their job, so it's been a really positive month," Johnson said.
"I would rather know my guys are trained, so we're prepared when it's go time," added 1st Sgt. Steven Kelly, "We don't care if the work demands only a four-Soldier squad ... we don't care if it's the whole company. We just want to do the work. It's always about training."