FORT POLK, La. — Soldiers with Fort Polk’s 46th Engineer Battalion spent five days in April training with civilians from the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. The training was the brainchild of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Edward Reid, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 46th Eng Bn.
“I reached out to the New Orleans Corps of Engineers because they didn’t have any surveyors in this area,” Reid said. “I was trying to find our guys more training. I asked the New Orleans team if our surveyors could shadow them.”
Staff Sgt. Reed Vascocu, HHC, 46th Eng Bn, said he and the other MOS 12T technical engineers have similar responsibilities as their civilian counterparts with the Corps of Engineers with one exception: Instead of specialists focused on one specific area, the Army engineers are each responsible for every area.
MOS 12T supervises or participates in construction site development to include technical investigation, surveying, drafting, development of construction plans, specifications and performing quality control inspections. Corps of Engineers units have a different civilian worker whose focus is on just one of those areas.
“Everything we do in the Army closely relates to what surveying crews do for USACE,” Reid said.
USACE was constructing levees north of New Orleans around Lake Ponchartrain to provide protection in the event of a flood, Vascocu said. They did a lot of work on channels, so if water had to be diverted, the channels could handle it.
“This has been a project they’ve been working on since Hurricane Katrina,” Vascocu said. “They’ve been constructing new levees to help assist with the problems they are still faced with today. This was in addition to the mitigation work that is already in place.”
Cpl. Brian Dang, HHC, 46th Eng Bn, said while there he was able to get hands-on training with levee systems and flood control. “I was also able to develop connections with USACE personnel who I can turn to if I have a question on something I am doing here,” he said. “They can offer real-world experience on certain issues, and help me apply them to my job on Fort Polk.”
Spc. Suely Hernandez, 687th Engineer Company, 46th Eng Bn, was among the 13 Soldiers who made the trip to New Orleans. She said the training opportunities were limitless.
“It was a lot to learn, a lot of different areas,” she said. “By observing them, we can learn how to do our jobs more efficiently in each area. I studied these areas in school, but they are not things I do on a daily basis. I learned different techniques on how to accomplish the mission in different environments.”
Reid said training was “absolutely” what he was looking for. He said the groundwork was laid for future training opportunities.
“We have a 5-year memorandum of agreement between us and USACE so we can go back and forth and shadow their guys as they are working on different projects,” Reid said.
When the 12Ts head back to New Orleans for more training, Vascocu said they would most likely work on the same project, just different aspects of it.
“We’ll also probably go in smaller groups to facilitate one-on-one training with what they do to better help junior enlisted hone in their skills as 12Ts,” he said.
Vascocu said the 12Ts that made the initial trip would share what they learned with other 12Ts in the unit.
“I think the trip validated some of the methods we’re using,” he said. “We’re on par with what civilians are using, especially equipment wise. In some cases, our equipment was better. They were surprised.”
The Fort Polk engineers were even able to teach the USACE engineers a thing or two, Vascocu said.
“We were able to teach them a method we use that we call an integrated resection,” he said. “It uses GPS and line-of-sight surveying, and that’s something they don’t do.”
Reid said the Soldier engineers were actually better trained than they thought.
“The biggest thing we took away was the ability to refine what we do, and make us a little more accurate, more precise,” he said. “And it comes down to repetition: They are constantly doing it, and they have specialists that all they do is one thing, where we have to work every area.”
Vascocu said in AIT, Soldiers learn a little about many areas.
“Just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be an expert in any of them,” he said. “Going to New Orleans was useful to see and learn those specialized techniques.”
Sgt. Steven Welch, HHC, 46th Eng Bn, said he hopes other units, Army-wide, will see what Fort Polk is doing by working with the local USACE and develop similar programs so their 12Ts become more proficient.
“Hopefully, it becomes an Army-wide standard to use training with the Corps of Engineers to get experience they’re not able to get anywhere else,” Welch said.