By Sgt. Harley Jelis, 138th Public Affairs Detachment, New York Army National GuardJuly 24, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Nearly 300 Soldiers from the Binghamton, N.Y. based 204th Engineer Battalion used their summer annual training to prepare for overseas deployments and domestic operations while building lasting projects across three ranges and four construction sites in Fort Drum, N.Y. in July, 2017.
"Not only are we training to deploy but we're also doing real world construction tasks to assist both in improving our job proficiency, as well as getting some tasks accomplished for Fort Drum that they just don't have the resources to do," said Maj. Bryan Reed, the executive officer for the 204th Engineer Battalion.
The 204th Engineer Battalion is comprised of six subordinate units that all specialize in different areas of engineering. This diversity enables the battalion to tackle a wide range of missions, including tasks relevant for both domestic and deployed combat operations missions.
"Our engineers run a full gamut; we do everything from route clearance, finding IEDs and getting rid of them, to building a shed and everything in between," Reed said.
This year's annual training provided the opportunity for the battalion to work together with active duty units from Fort Drum, including military police and field artillery.
"This weekend we'll be working with the military police for a combined arms exercise," said Reed. "It's really the first time we've combined at this level so that we can come together and generate some effective training for the both of us."
Every year a unit's annual training allows its Soldiers to refresh their technical skills while giving newer Soldiers a chance to apply what they learned in to school to real life.
These tasks, like the two storage sheds that Sgt. Javier Mercado, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 1156th Engineer Company, built for use on Ft. Drum, gave him experience on everything from design work and project management to carpentry.
"Every year we progress in our training; our skill levels increase because every time we come to annual training there are projects for us to do," Mercado said. "We are getting better at what we do, it feels really good to come out and practice our jobs."
The battalion's construction projects can have applications for deployed environments as well, such as the unit's work on repairing Fort Drum's Forward Landing Strip (FLS). The strip, which is the only one in the northeast, simulates a forward airfield that would be created in a deployed combat environment that brings in supplies from cargo planes.
"We're here to resurface the Belvedere FLS, and this is very important because the next closest FLS is in South Carolina," said 1 Lt. Kevin Valenti, a platoon leader with the 152nd Engineer Support Company, 204th Engineer Battalion. "We're repaving and making a bypass road so vehicles don't need to cut across it and damage the surface."
This year the battalion has also been able to focus on realistic training and meeting the need for security in a deployed environment.
"We've really pushed to bring everything together tactically," said Valenti. "Now we're trying to come out before we even start the construction; we're setting work-site security, all of this is going to be the same stuff we'd be doing while deployed."
The Soldiers of the 827th Heavy Engineer Company have been able to focus on the tasks they would be expected to do in a deployed environment. They've been building fighting emplacements for everything from individual positions to artillery batteries to defilades meant to hide tanks.
According to 1st Lt. Stephen Hetman, a platoon leader with the 827th Heavy Engineer Company out of Walden and Horseheads, N.Y., this training has been invaluable for the Soldiers, allowing them to practice on tasks and with units they couldn't back at their home stations.
"It's a phenomenal work experience," said Hetman about working with the field artillery. "There's a lot of learning behind it, but it's not something they were able to do before."
The focus on training for both domestic and international operations is what is tying all of the 204th Engineer Battalion's tasks together. Getting the job done, doing it well and giving each Soldier the opportunity to say, "yeah, we built that," makes it all worthwhile, said Maj. Bryan Reed.