FORT SMITH, Ark. -"We bridge the gap, that's what we do," said Spc. Timmy Barnes of the 2061st Multi-Role Bridge Company. "We're just one small piece of the puzzle, but we're here to do our job."
Soldiers with the 2061st participated in River Assault 2018, a multi-component exercise on the Arkansas River near Fort Smith Ark., July 25. The Guardsmen worked with active duty, reserve and Marine Corps units to build a bridge over the Arkansas River. River Assault is an annual event, but the first time the 2061st has been a part of it.
"We are conducting a joint operation with the reserve component, active component, Marines and aviation," said Capt. Cody Lasseigne, commander of the 2061st. "We are the only Guard unit here. We've been showing our colors and trying to make Kentucky proud."
Nearly 1300 soldiers came together for this exercise to build an Improved Ribbon Bridge across the Arkansas River. The bridge, which covers nearly 1300 ft. is designed to provide a river crossing for ground forces and heavy equipment.
"Today, we're teaming up with the other units to do a full enclosure, from shore to shore," said Spc. Tyler Browning, a bridge crewmember of the 2061st. "Our unit is only a few years old and this is our first full enclosure, and we're right in the middle of it."
River Assault is one of the largest Army Reserve engineer training exercises each year. Coordination of the event falls to alternate Reserve engineer commands.
Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, commanding general of the US Army Reserve was on hand to view the event. Luckey said in his 40 plus year service, he hadn't personally seen such interoperability on the river.
While an Army Reserve-led event, Luckey didn't refer to it as an Army Reserve event. "We pretty much have everybody here working together, which is great," he said.
Luckey, along with other Reserve and Marine leadership staffs visited the troops on the river, including the 2061st, the newest group in the mix. "I am very impressed with their proficiency they've developed in such a short period of time," said Luckey.
Even in a short two years, the 2061st has amassed a large inventory of equipment, necessary for their mission. For River Assault, the unit traveled from Kentucky to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas with nearly 180 pieces, including Common Bridge Transporters, interior bridge bays, MK2 bridge erection boats and boat cradles.
Most of the equipment are older, "hand-me-downs" as some Soldiers call them. But that doesn't keep the unit from successfully completing their part of the mission. Thanks primarily to the 2061st's mechanics.
The 2061st Maintenance Platoon worked quickly and diligently to ensure River Assault went well. They were available and ready to fix any leaks, breaks or mechanical issues that would slow the mission down.
"We've been at Fort Chaffee for nine days now, putting in some long hours," said Sgt. Richard Young, a mechanic of the 2061st. "Part of our mission here was to make sure our Soldiers on the river have their equipment up and running so the bridges get built. Anytime something breaks we're here to fix it."
Some repairs were done on the water with mechanics fixing boat engine issues while still lashed to the bridge, but for more serious fixes, it was a short drive back to Fort Chaffee. There the mechanics had an automotive repair unit, body and fabrication repair unit, an automotive shop and weld shop all ready to meet the repair needs of the boats and trucks.
"The amount of sacrifice and dedication these mechanics have to keep the mission going is nothing short of amazing," said Sgt. 1st Class Justin Wininger, platoon sergeant of the maintenance platoon. "The whole platoon has been busy, but they've kept the mission going."
To span the river, the 2061st trucked their boats and interior bridge bays to the river and launched the bays. A boat would then tie up the bay and drive it out into the river to meet up with other bays. There a bridge crew would be waiting to attach each bay. The 2061st was assigned 10 bays to assemble. Once all the pieces were together, the boats would then push the bridge up river to meet up with a bridge of the Army Reserve's 729th MRBC from Granite City, Ill.
The Soldiers then waited for the Marines to deliver their end of the bridge, which had been airdropped by Ch-47 Chinooks earlier in the morning.
Upon completion, ground forces would cross the river in the final stage of the assault mission.
River Assault 2018 was the largest exercise yet for the young Kentucky bridge unit. Soldiers of the unit earned the admiration of other units and demonstrated true interoperability.
"I'm extremely proud of all the hard work and effort the 2061st Soldiers have put into their training and these exercises," Lasseigne said. "It really shows how you can come together for an operation as if we were overseas and be successful, regardless of the task."