By Angie Thorne, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerMarch 27, 2009
The old adage, 'practice makes perfect,' is true for most any skill. The Soldiers of the 814th Engineers, Multi-Role Bridge Company is busy personifying that practice with bridge training exercises. The MRBC began honing their bridge building skills Feb. 25 at the 814th Engineer training area. Why the training' Because 814th Soldiers are preparing for anything their mission might throw at them. That includes constructing a dry support bridge.
"We have to be prepared in case we are called to use this bridge anywhere -- not just in Iraq. As company commander, it's my job to make sure we are trained to standards across the board -- not just on equipment, but on all of our tasks. It's a bridge -- we are a bridge company -- I'm going to make sure we are trained and able to use it," said Capt. Kevin Lewis, company commander.
The unit is training to have this skill down pat before deployment. That way, when or if the bridge is needed in Iraq, they can hit the ground running and assemble the bridge with speed. "There are a lot of steps involved in dealing with a bridge like this and when we use it in Iraq, we have to finish as fast as possible," said Sgt. Michael Wozniak, noncommissioned officer in charge of the dry support bridge.
Wozniak said the unit receives new Soldiers every few months. Often, the training is for their benefit. "But it's also beneficial for Soldiers who know what they are doing. It's like a refresher course," he said.
"Soldiers can train on this bridge without any prior knowledge of the systems or steps involved because their NCOs have the knowledge and training to teach them what to do and how to do it. The NCOs have taken classes and understand the ins and outs of the bridge. This gives them a better understanding of the mission set and the bridge itself -- its capabilities and limitations," said Lewis.
What is a dry support bridge' This type of bridge spans a natural gap such as a river, pond or a hole in the ground. The bridge can also be used to cross over man-made obstacles like those produced by improvised explosive devices.
"There are two lengths the dry bridge can span. The 20-meter bridge is used for ravines or small ponds that can't be walked around. The 40-meter bridge could be used after an IED blows up the road, but you still need to get across it. As long as you have stable ground on both sides of the obstacle, the dry bridge can be used," said Wozniak.
He said the load bearing capability of the bridge is about one hundred fifty-thousand tons. "It can take quite a bit of weight, but only one vehicle at a time can cross the bridge. More than one at a time can overload the bridge capacity. It's a steel bridge, but there are cables inside and too much weight could break them," said Wozniak.
On training day, company engineers dealt with uneven ground, wind, damp weather and finding an appropriate site to dig a trench and assemble the bridge. Wozniak said that's part of the norm and actually closer to the reality of problems that could arise in Iraq. "Site layout is important because if you don't prepare properly, the bridge may have to be reassembled."
Understanding the complex and technical steps involved in putting the dry bridge together can be confusing to non-engineers. Picture a massive Lego set made of steel instead of plastic and operated by computer technology and hydraulics. That's simplistically put, but gives you some idea of the scale and challenges Soldiers are working with when training and eventually us
ing this bridge on a mission. "Everything about this bridge has to be done in sequence. Each step must be successfully executed to move on to the next. There is a brain box on the truck. It tells you if anything is out of sequence. If something doesn't light up, the truck won't go to the next step. You can't override the system and you don't really want to because you could put someone in danger," said Wozniak.
All in all, Lewis said he is pleased with the work his Soldiers are doing. "This, like all bridge training, helps our Soldiers do their jobs. Too often, they get wrapped up in other tasks and assignments. This training allows bridge crew members, leaders and chiefs get out there and do what they like to -- build bridges," said Lewis.
Lewis said the dry bridge training is only the first of many types of bridge exercises that the unit has in store.
"We have just finished water survival training at Vernon Lake, and once we are fielded with boats, we plan to have a boat school," said Lewis. That preparation will lead up to the next type of bridge training exercise -- building a bridge across a lake.