By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsNovember 21, 2019
A small team of Soldiers from 19th Engineer Battalion took a break from work on Crumb Range at Fort Knox Nov. 19 to receive a little recognition.
For the past 57 days, the engineers had been digging dirt, pouring concrete and welding thick rebar in preparation for opening up what will become only the second steel cutting bunker in the entire Army -- a fortified, reinforced building designed to absorb massive explosions.
"We'll have combat engineers setting off explosives inside the bunker," said Warrant Officer Alexis Forchiney, construction engineering technician with the 19th's 15th Engineer Construction Company and the project lead. "Our job is to get in all the 3 feet thick walls with reinforced rebar in the walls and the roof. Once it's all completed there's going to be a liner of timber and sand inside of the bunker for when they do all the charges and explosives."
Rodney Manson, Installation Range Management officer at Installation Management Command, arrived at the site near the end of the day to deliver awards and coins to the Soldiers, and to thank them for what they had already accomplished. He and others said the construction was nothing short of amazing.
"The 19th came to me and said, 'Hey, we need a steel cutting bunker,' and I said, 'Okay, no problem,'" said Manson. "We put together some justifications, and we submitted it in what's called the Senior Commander's Installation Needs and Issues. So basically it's validated at the installation level, and then we sent it up through IMCOM headquarters.
"About two years later, the funding for the materials came down because it was a self-help project to be completed by the Soldiers."
Prior to handing out the awards in front of the bunker, Manson told the Soldiers how impressed he has been with their work, especially since the cost savings to U.S. taxpayers add up to about $800,000.
"The Army is in to this about $400,000," said Manson. "If we would have contracted this out, by the time we got it done it would have been about a $2 million project."
The Soldiers have had to juggle two deployments and day-to-day responsibilities at the unit while trying to get the project done. At about 45% complete, Forchiney said they expect to be finished around June of 2020. The walls and roof remain to be built.
"The other piece of this is it's a training opportunity as well," said Manson. "This is what they do; this is what they sign up to do is build things, so for them to get this kind of training at this magnitude is amazing."
Forchiney got the idea and designs on how to build the bunker from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri engineers -- the site of the only bunker at the moment. All along the way, Forchiney and other engineers, including officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, conducted quality control inspections to ensure the building was not substandard in construction. After completed, Manson said they plan to open up the site for others to utilize.
Manson said the building can seem rather simple at first glance to those who don't know what is being built.
"This is not a small project," said Manson. "It may look like it's small in size but this is a huge undertaking, especially for guys that are not specifically trained to do it."
"I spoke to a civilian engineer at the Corps of Engineers recently and he came and gave us his ideas," said Forchiney. "He said this is equivalent to any civilian engineer project he's seen. I think it was our attention to detail that makes it great, and that we can't mess this up.
"We've got to make sure everything is set on point, everything is in the right spot. There's a lot of money and 11,425 work hours involved -- It's a hellava job!"