By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)October 1, 2019
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- As Spc. Earnest Poss pressed the excavator's shovel into Building 1369 on Main Post, Spc. Randy Warner shot water at the tumbling structure to keep dust from rising here Sept. 13.
Bldgs. 1367 and 1369 on Yeager Avenue, the former locations of the Defense Logistics Agency printing office and defensive driving course respectively, were the first of several structures the 877th Engineer Company, 878th Engineer Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard, demolished and removed as part of two weeks of real-world training at Fort Benning.
All the structures, which also included a former racquetball court, a former gas station and its overhang, were already scheduled for demolition by the Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning.
But rather than allocating garrison funds to destroy and remove the buildings, DPW and the National Guard collaborated. As a result, the garrison had the buildings removed at less cost, and the National Guard Soldiers got training time operating heavy equipment.
"Fort Benning was just looking at collaborative and innovative ways to reduce our footprint," said Theresa Hamilton, Environmental Management Division, Directorate of Public Works.
Hamilton and Tim Stone, an installation facilities utilization specialist at Fort Benning, worked with several organizations on post to make the collaboration between the garrison and the National Guard happen. Stone said the demolitions were overdue.
"They looked like they were intact from the inside, but both required complete replacement of the roofs," Stone said of Bldgs. 1367 and 1369. "That's a little over $100,000 to replace the roofs. They were two buildings that were not being utilized, were unoccupied and were just falling apart. It was more cost-effective to take them down, free up the area, create green space for the local area, and possibly provide space for a future building."
For the Georgia Army National Guard, this project allowed its Soldiers time operating heavy machinery, including excavators and dump trucks.
The Soldiers of the 877th Engineer Co. both build and demolish as part of their mission.
"Typically this unit in a combat mission would be doing vertical and horizontal construction," said Lt. Col. John Church, 878th Engineer Battalion commander. "But any time you can run a piece of equipment, regardless of what you're doing, the training is going to help the professional development of these operators."
"The younger Soldiers are getting good stick time to demolish these buildings and run the equipment," said Capt. Stephen Andrews, commander of the 878th Engineer Battalion, who served as the project's officer in charge. "We only have so much training days per year. So it gives these younger guys some time to get experience."
Some of the Soldiers perform construction in their civilian lives. Sgt. Quindale Williams of Loganville, Georgia, an equipment operator with the company, operates heavy machinery in his civilian life as well. He agreed with Andrews on the importance of exercises like these.
"The more stick time you get, the better you actually get at operating a piece of equipment," said Williams.
Williams joined the Georgia Army National Guard when he was 19 and has been with them several years since.
"When I joined, it was all or nothing, and it never dawned on me that I wouldn't want to give it up," said Williams. "I went to basic right here at Fort Benning at Sand Hill, and it was challenge mentally. But after I made it past that, I felt like I could do anything. I never gave up, and I have never looked back."
Spc. Steven Ferguson operated a dump truck for the first time as part of the demolition.
"Before here, I never knew how to operate a dump truck," he said. "I get in it, and it's so much easier than you would think it would be. It's a teachable experience."
Ferguson lives in Columbus, Georgia, and he joined the Georgia Army National Guard two years ago when he was 18. He sees his time with the 877th Engineer Company as relevant career experience.
"With this particular mission here, the more that I operate these machines, the more I can put on my resume that I have under my belt," he said. "Because the more comfortable I get with it, the better."
The event, according to the battalion commander, furthers the relationship between the Georgia Army National Guard and U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning.
"Our brigade headquarters is here on Fort Benning, so there's a relationship there between the National Guard and the post," said Church. "The post requested some support - if we could offer some kind of assistance to help do some of the demolition of these buildings - and this is a mission that fits in with our training."
The work the Georgia Army National Guard performed went better than what personnel at the Directorate of Public Works had envisioned.
"The Georgia Army National Guard has exceeded our expectations," said Hamilton. "They went above and beyond. We're very pleased with how the project's gone."