The 200th Engineer Company of the 153rd Engineer Battalion, South Dakota National Guard, worked with the 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, also from South Dakota, and the Minnesota National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, to erect a floating bridge in a Wet Gap Crossing exercise over Ferrell Lake at Camp Ripley Training Center, Little Falls, Minn., July 18-19, 2022. (Courtesy Photo)
The 200th Engineer Company of the 153rd Engineer Battalion, South Dakota National Guard, worked with the 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, also from South Dakota, and the Minnesota National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, to erect a floating bridge in a Wet Gap Crossing exercise over Ferrell Lake at Camp Ripley Training Center, Little Falls, Minn., July 18-19, 2022. (Courtesy Photo) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – The South Dakota and Minnesota National Guard joined forces to conduct a Wet Gap Crossing exercise at Camp Ripley Training Center July 18-19.

Crossing a wet gap means crossing a water obstacle significant enough to prevent traditional ground maneuver, a logistical challenge at any time, but a complex and major operation during war.

For this exercise, the 200th Engineer Company of the 153rd Engineer Battalion out of South Dakota provided the rafting, bridging and boat systems to cross a water obstacle. The 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, also from South Dakota, along with elements of Minnesota’s 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, served as the maneuver unit and provided the combat forces to be moved across Camp Ripley’s Ferrell Lake.

A division tactical command post serves as the command-and-control element of the crossing site. The DTAC contains a fraction of the unit headquarters and controls operations for a limited time. Detailed planning and preparation can ensure success in the fundamental elements of a deliberate wet gap crossing: surprise, flexibility, traffic control, organization and speed.

“From a brigade perspective, what we’re looking at is teaching our leaders today the importance of synchronizing and coordinating our efforts with other units,” said Col. Phillip Stiles, commander of the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, the 153rd’s higher headquarters. “[Everything] has to happen in synchronization in order for us to be able to get across.”

Soldiers of the 200th moved quickly in their bridge erection boats and advanced forces to the far bank to secure the landing area. The 200th then swiftly placed bridging sections in the water, assembling several floating “rafts” that enabled them to transfer additional firepower, including M1 Abrams main battle tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, over the water to the far-side bank.

After rafting significant combat power across the lake, CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters from Minnesota’s 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade (ECAB) sling-loaded additional bridging sections into the lake, allowing the engineers to assemble a floating bridge from one bank to the other. Follow-on maneuver forces then crossed the completed span, which in wartime would allow the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division to continue taking the fight to the enemy.

“The hardest mission that we do as the 34th Infantry Division, the Red Bulls, is to cross a river under combat conditions. There are so many things that have to go right, from your intelligence to your fire support, shaping the enemy, to the actual technical crossing,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Kemper, commanding general of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. “There’s a lot of things that can go wrong, which means there’s a lot of preparation we have to put in to make it go right.”

Senior leaders from the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division were on hand to observe and show appreciation for the unique capabilities of the 153rd Engineer Battalion, soon to align under the 34th as the division shifts its focus to the European Theater and a more traditional battlefield.

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