Maj. Francisco Arocho smiled as he watched a team of young Army engineers hold and level a 6-inch by 6-inch plank against another, then - once everything was just right - quickly screw the boards in place.
Arocho, the commander of the Joint Multinational Readiness Center’s Troop Construction Program at Hohenfels Training Area, Hohenfels, Germany, was on hand to supervise the final framing construction of a 100-meter trench June 4, 2021. The trench was finally becoming a reality.
“It’s quite a robust project, almost two years in the making,” Arocho said.
The trench is important because Arocho said it will serve as a training aide on HTA for countless units of Soldiers over the next 7-10 years. It is built to last, with a frame constructed from heavy, treated lumber. The ground surrounding the trench is tapered to the top of the trench, meaning it can be easily concealed and serve as an area in which the entire surrounding valley can be defended by a platoon or less-sized element from enemy forces during training scenarios – if the Soldiers employ the correct tactics.
To build the trench, Arocho enlisted the help of some of his fellow local engineers from third platoon, Argonaut Troop, Regimental Engineer Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, who are stationed at nearby Grafenwoehr Training Area, Grafenwoehr, Germany. The platoon had dump trucks, bull dozers, High Mobility Engineer Excavators, and even bigger civilian excavators on the construction site. They just needed the skill of experienced Soldiers to guide the project.
That’s where the TCP team came into play.
“The people on our team were hand-selected based on their skills and expertise,” Arocho said. “One of the values that’s added is most Reserve engineers actually do this job on the civilian side, so not only do they know what they’re doing for the Army, but they have to maintain these proficiencies, licensures and skills on a daily basis to earn income back at home.”
The TCP is responsible for maintaining and improving “the box”, or the land designated specifically for high-tempo training of multiple rotations of units at HTA, Arocho said.
The box is constantly in use, by units completing training rotations, as well as permanent units like the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, who are tasked with providing opposing forces/enemy attacks and resistance to these rotational units, or the observer/coach-trainer teams evaluating the training. Arocho said his team receives constant feedback and suggestions on projects that can be done to make the box on HTA the optimal training environment.
After receiving the suggestions, Arocho said his team assigns the projects that are deemed most necessary to rotational groups of National Guard and Reserve engineers who travel to HTA to construct the projects. The rotational exercise is known as Trans-Atlantic Castle, and involves the real-world training more than 1,200 engineers throughout the course of a year. The TCP acts as liaisons and advisors for the engineers participating in Trans-Atlantic Castle, making sure they have the proper tools, equipment and supplies to complete the projects during their time in Germany.
“The TCP is a Department of the Army program with the mission of increasing the readiness of all Army engineers,” Arocho said. “So the Active, Reserve or National Guard components – we support them all.”
In the case of the trench, Arocho said the RES Soldiers faced a challenge, as they are horizontal engineers who were tasked with constructing a vertical structure. Nonetheless, he said the RES embraced the challenge and conquered the project.
Pvt. Cole Bryant Augustine, a horizontal engineer from Clover, South Carolina, was one of the engineers who said he gained a lot of knowledge from participating on the project and working with the TCP.
“This is actually my first big project, and I’m learning every day,” Augustine said. “Advanced Individual Training taught me the basis, but there’s a lot of lot I’ve learned here you don’t learn there.”
Augustine operated a High Mobility Engineer Excavator to lay down a gravel spoil foundation on the bottom of the trench, as well as backfill the trench walls. He has only been in the Army for nine months, and last year was in high school. He had never been out of the country before and loved working on the project, and the knowledge he gained from the TCP and his fellow engineers.
“The brothership and comradery of just being around my platoon has been great,” Cole said. “Working on this project taught me responsibility and being away from home has been a huge thing for me, so this has been great. I can’t wait to see it when it’s being used.”
“It’s just a matter of working with the Soldiers, being here on the ground on a daily basis, providing on-the-spot quality assurance and control, and passing on some tips of the trade we’ve learned through the years,” Arocho said. “It’s fun to see them grow with the project, and you see it every day – they get better and better and more efficient.”
The TCP team consists of Arocho, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Raymond Cowden, the quality assurance/ quality control and construction management section OIC, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Spencer, the NCOIC for the construction management section, Sgt. 1st Class Aamira Bryant, the TCP NCOIC/Logistics Planner who also handles all the team’s administrative tasks, and Capt. Amauri Padilla, the team's operation officer.
Arocho and Padilla provide the overall construction management aspect to the team. Cowden also adds invaluable expertise and experience to the team. He owns a garage door company on the civilian side and was an enlisted horizontal construction engineer before becoming a warrant officer. Spencer, meanwhile, has an extensive background in vertical construction.
“Between the two of them, the team can tackle any construction project that comes our way,” Arocho said.
Bryant is a key member of the team, Arocho said, because she gets the TCP the physical materials they need to accomplish construction projects.
“It’s really the most critical task,” Arocho said. “I can have skilled Soldiers all day, but if I don’t have fuel, water or food, there’s nothing we can do.”
Beyond that, Bryant sometimes finds herself donning a hardhat when an extra set of hands for labor are needed.
Arocho and Bryant came to the team from the Army Reserve Engagement Cell out of Weisbaden, while the remaining three members of the team are on Active-Duty Operational Support orders.
The trench will serve as a training aid for several upcoming events, beginning with the 7th Army Training Command’s European Best Sniper Team Competition which takes place August 5-14 on HTA. More than 25 teams of the world’s best snipers from throughout the U.S. and Europe will square off in a week of mentally and physically demanding shooting challenges to see who will take home the EBSTC top honor.
Whether it’s supervising or designing projects, advising their engineer corps peers, overseeing Trans-Atlantic Castle exercise, or building something themselves, the TCP team is using their specialized skills daily to make a difference on HTA.
“These guys are professionals,” Arocho said. “They are out here all the time working, and making sure the box in Hohenfels is the best possible place to train in.”