The Army Reserve's 420th Engineer Brigade, located in Bryan, Texas, spent a year deployed in 2017 to Iraq building roads and keeping those same roads clear of mines and explosives. Since then, the unit that was once a premiere front line combat support asset has endured considerable turnover of many of its most experienced veterans. Retirements, transfers, promotions, and end of services contracts dwindled the unit strength following their homecoming.
Now, in 2019, the 420th is flush with the fresh faces of eager young privates and new non-commissioned officers who have revitalized the unit.
"The 420th is going back to basics," said 1st Sgt. Jennifer T. Villegas of HHC, 420th Eng Bde. "Getting our Soldiers back to accountability, responsibility, empowering our young NCOs to take charge so the make things happen and create a positive environment that doesn't micro-manage, and that's what I want to be a part of."
"We have to keep our basic combat skills sharp," said Staff Sgt. Arthur Zene, a combat engineer assigned to the 362nd Engineer Company, 420th En Bde. "Combat skills are perishable things that we may need at a moment's notice, so we need to keep training; the more realistic the better."
Their January 2019 battle assembly included mine detection and clearing operations led by Staff Sgt. Zene.
"Explosive devices are dangers that engineers always face in deployed areas," said Zene, a native Floridian. "The dangers are increasing as our potential enemies use more and more mines and explosives. In a theater like Korea, mines would be an extreme threat for our Soldiers. The threat zones there are covered with a huge number of mines."
Zene has Soldiers with various levels of experience in his unit, and he wants them all to be prepared.
"We have some new Soldiers in our unit that have never deployed and this is a good start for them. For the those that have deployed with us, it's a reminder not to get too relaxed and to stay alert."
This group of Soldiers not only trained in mine detection and mine clearing, but also in reacting to contact. Reacting to contact, also sometimes known as reacting to fire, is not a natural thing, and to properly respond, Soldiers need to train.
"While I have been in the Army for four years, I haven't been deployed in a combat zone, and training is the only time I can gain this type of experience," said Spc. Kain Duncan, a 362nd Engineer Company horizontal engineer. "I found the training really useful, but I want it to be more realistic. The more realistic it is, the more I learn, and the more I want it."