By 1st Lt. Erin SmithSeptember 6, 2018
REDMOND, Oregon - Oregon Army National Guard Soldiers with the 224th Engineer Company, based in Albany, Oregon, worked long days during their Annual Training (AT) to improve conditions at Biak Training Center near Redmond, Oregon. The gravel roads throughout Biak have been deteriorating for years. This summer, the 224th Engineer Company provided the equipment and manpower to repair three major roadways at Biak.
Bryan Nielsen, Integrated Training Area Management (ITAM) coordinator and facilities manager at Biak Training Center, said he was grateful for the help.
"The 224th Engineer unit approached us and wanted to know if they could do their AT out here and do some road work for us and I always welcome that," he said. "I am the only person that does that here at Biak and we have 43,000 acres."
While the unit may have offered to do "some" work, they certainly accomplished more. Bryan Nielsen estimated that the engineers accomplished about one-year worth of work in 2-3 days.
The only thing the engineers did not provide was the rock, which was supplied by the ITAM program and the sustainment program. Biak does not have the equipment or manpower to do major road repairs, so they usually rely on contractors for any major maintenance projects. In comparison to normal repair costs, buying rock was a minimal expenditure for repaired roadways.
Bryan Nielsen and the team at Biak were not the only ones to benefit from this AT project.
"It is sort of a win-win-win, which doesn't happen very often," explained Capt. Joseph Zimmerman, commander of the 224th. "Training is provided to my Soldiers, maintenance to an Oregon training facility, a National Guard training facility, and then infrastructure is built up out here that the public can use."
The thousands of acres that make up Biak Training Center are also open to the public, who use the same roads traveled by military vehicles. Nielsen believes the neighbors and the public will be grateful for the improved roads.
Soldiers from the unit received an excellent training opportunity in exchange for their hard work.
Sgt. Jason Schroeder shared the benefit for his section, "Here the Soldiers are able to be hands on and have the experience to learn how to process rock and to construct roads. The experience they gain here and the time and the equipment builds that confidence that, down the road, if they are called to deployment they will know what their equipment is capable of and what their job entails."
The hard work by Soldiers at Biak was a successful ending to almost a year of planning and coordination. Leadership from the 224th coordinated with Biak personnel about needs and priorities. Additional interagency coordination was required because, unlike most National Guard training facilities, Biak is a multipurpose land use area. Biak Training Center holds a 30-year land use agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who owns the property. Finally, months of planning resulted in what all parties agreed to be a successful training project.
Zimmerman saw the difference working on a lasting project made for his Soldiers, "Being able to see it stay, makes them put a little bit more effort into it because nobody wants to build something just to tear it down... They know they can come back here in a few years and see what they have done and they just stay very excited about it."
While the work for the 224th Engineer Company is done for now, it probably won't be the last time Biak Training Center sees them.
"[Bryan] is limited on his scope of equipment, as one guy would be, so he can't get done what we can get done. He can maintain to a certain level but it will require us to come back and work on it," said Zimmerman.