Fort Campbell is one step closer to removing its World War II-era structures thanks to a military-civilian partnership between the Directorate of Public Works and 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
Sapper Eagles helped DPW demolish the vacant Building 873, July 19-23, which provided hands-on training opportunities for the Soldiers while moving the installation toward a long-term goal.
“We’re facing an ongoing challenge with World War II wood,” said Mark Lewis, community planner, DPW Master Planning Division. “They have asbestos and they’re just unsafe to be in. They’re not as well insulated as the other buildings on post, and if you turn off the utilities for one World War II-era building you’re saving upwards of $2,000 a month in electric, HVAC and maintenance.”
Most of the remaining World War II-era buildings on post are concentrated in DPW’s footprint, and tearing down Building 873 leaves approximately 345,000 square feet of them still standing.
“The plan is to tie this demolition into the unit’s training plan and military readiness,” Lewis said. “There used to be a time where engineers would just go out and blow structures up, but now they’re using blowtorches, they’re breaching and their capabilities have generally increased. This gives them some hands-on experience, and that can also help them with the skills needed to earn certifications on the civilian side.”
First Lieutenant Robert Dietrich III, A Company, 326th BEB, said the unit is more accustomed to breaching minefields than demolishing buildings, so the experience proved valuable.
“Our role is basically supporting DPW, assisting with cleaning up the debris and transporting it to the landfill,” Dietrich said. “It’s a mission we really haven’t practiced within our brigade, and it’s a different kind of stability operation.”
Soldiers also had opportunities to work hands-on with equipment like hydraulic seeders and excavators with guidance from DPW’s subject matter experts.
“This is the first time that we’ve done something like this,” said Spc. Joshua Whiddon, 326th BEB. “I’m excited to gain new experience from working with civilian professionals, because they know a lot more about this kind of project. It’s a great opportunity to do our job and put into practice the work we’ve trained so much for.”
Lewis coordinated with Dietrich to set up the project, and the Soldiers spent a week preparing their vehicles, scouting the route to the landfill and more to make sure they were ready for the task at hand.
“One of their missions in the Army is to be engineers, but unfortunately, they don’t get to do that much outside of a combat environment,” said Brad Schuermann, facilities management specialist, DPW Master Planning Division. “So we’re bringing them down to work with DPW’s Roads and Grounds crew.”
Completing projects in-house also saves the installation thousands of dollars in contracting costs, so both Soldiers and civilian employees benefit from the partnership, Schuermann said.
DPW previously invited Dirt Pour Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, 887th Engineer Company, 19th U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to demolish two World War II-era buildings on the installation in 2019. The project saved Fort Campbell at least $100,000 in estimated contracting fees, and working with Bastogne could yield similar results while training Screaming Eagle Soldiers.
“Demolition of brick-and-mortar buildings takes priority [for funding], so we’ve just got to be innovative,” Lewis said. “I found out the division had an engineer working group, so I plugged myself into their meeting and learned that there were a whole bunch of engineers on post with capabilities we didn’t necessarily have.”
Dietrich said 326th BEB aims to continue lending those capabilities to DPW projects so the Soldiers can gain more hands-on experience, and DPW is open to building further partnerships with Soldiers on demolition.
“I want to thank A Co., 326th BEB, for stepping outside the box and taking a chance to come assist us,” Lewis said. “And I’m thankful for my leadership from DPW for trusting our planning and the partnership that we have. It’s always great when civilians can work with the military.”