JOHNSTON, Iowa – A school teacher named Lena Mosier once wrote a farewell tribute to the Herrold School House, which still stands, vacant, in Camp Dodge. It began like this:
“Early in September of 1912 a new white frame schoolhouse awaited the influx of the first long line of pupils who would pass through its portals for fifty-four years to come. Those first pupils came by horse and buggy, some driving many miles to attend . . . but in 1917, war had broken out in Europe and threatened world conflagration . . . Farmers were deprived of their homes in order to make way for a new military camp that, at its peak, housed 65,000 men.”
The tribute is kept in a manila folder in the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum’s research library. With it are old photos and newspaper articles that serve as a reminder that the small town of Herrold existed - before its schoolhouse became the last building standing as the town melted, slowly, into the folds of Camp Dodge.
Just as the schoolhouse changed throughout history – at one point it even housed Army officers – it continues to change today, as Iowa Army National Guard Soldiers work to renovate the structure in an effort to modernize the training area.
“We’re going to keep the schoolhouse sign and try our best to keep it historically accurate on the outside,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McKee, project manager at Camp Dodge Training Site. McKee lives in nearby Urbandale. “The inside will be pretty much gutted and be two different rooms, and the basement will be made structurally sound.”
The idea, said McKee, is to allow Soldiers to use the schoolhouse as a tactical operations center. They will be able to set up their own wireless communications to simulate a temporary operations center during conflict.
The schoolhouse renovation is being completed with the help of the 831st Engineer Company based out of Middletown, Iowa. The unit has the opportunity to complete projects at Camp Dodge during their annual training, which allows Training Site to locally source the work and provides real-world training for Soldiers.
“For a majority of these guys, it’s their first time pouring concrete,” said Sgt. David Kern, an interior electrician with the 831st EC and Runnels, Iowa, native. Kern supervised as his team made a new sidewalk outside the schoolhouse.
“They did pretty good. It was a learning experience, and kind of a crawling phase to get ready for bigger projects.”
Spc. Brayton Chesnut, an interior electrician from Creston, Iowa, is new to the unit. He said spending his first annual training doing real projects has been an exciting experience. Chesnut is attending Southwest Community College, where he’s working toward an electrical technology degree. While he’s hasn’t worked on any electrical projects yet, he sees the value in learning more about different trade work.
“Pouring concrete slab is something new,” said Chesnut, “but being able to set up the structure, which can be difficult, was fun because we figured out the best way by using two-by-fours and everyone pitched in to help. It’s just awesome.”
In addition to the schoolhouse project, the 831st EC is pouring new sidewalks outside the Joint Force Headquarters building, installing electrical capabilities and a ventilation system for a newly-built gas chamber and building the foundations of an Infantry Squad Battle Course.
Previously, Camp Dodge used an old, empty fuel tank to train Soldiers on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear safety procedures. It had no windows or ventilation system. The 220th Engineer Construction Company with the Missouri Army National Guard built the new structure during their annual training and handed it off to the 831st EC to continue the work.
“This new chamber is very modernized with a better ventilation system and can hold more people,” said McKee.
After the 831st EC completes the electrical and ventilation work, Training Site will finish the project by installing the doors and windows.
Of all the projects slated for Camp Dodge, the new Infantry Squad Battle Course is perhaps the most ambitious – and one that squad-level infantry troops across the state can look forward to.
The 831st EC is helping to complete the first phase, which includes using front end loaders to build berms. Staff Sgt. Dillon Long, a horizontal construction engineer with the 831st EC and Burlington, Iowa, native, said his team has been supplying the dirt and gravel to mold them.
“[Infantry squads] will be working from west to east,” said Long. “We’re setting up the berms so they can use them for cover, concealment and bounding. There will be a berm across the road from the trenches to have an unmanned moving Humvee to attack.”
Eventually, squads will be able to engage individual targets with rubber bullets as they navigate the berms. McKee said it another long-term goal is to install lanes for realistic mounted warfare training, where Soldiers can drive through in tactical vehicles while engaging targets.
As the projects manager, McKee has been working hard to ensure the 220th ECC and 831st EC were set up for success. He creates a list for building materials, makes purchase requests and creates construction schedules to ensure the projects stay on track.
While Camp Dodge no longer houses 65,000 Soldiers as it did during the peak of the World Wars, it has become a hub of sustainment and maneuver training for National Guard, Reserve and Active component units. The logistical efforts on behalf of Training Site and the hard work of the supporting engineering units will help springboard Iowa’s largest military training base to a new level of modernization.
“I like my job. I get to bring in units from different parts of the country to help maintain and improve our properties,” said McKee. “I’m hoping to branch out even broader as we try to start even bigger projects.”