MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. - Members of the 2061st Multi-Role Bridge Company participated in a joint exercise with military and civilian agencies as part of Operation: Homeland Defender 2023 June 8-10.
The 2061st was critically responsible for aiding search and rescue and creating a wet gap crossing to support the interagency disaster response training event.
“No matter the emergency, it quickly becomes vital that support operations are able to reach the victims and sustain life or provide rescue and evacuation,” said Capt. Brandt Cashion, commander of the 2061st. “That sets up the role we play in the earthquake scenario.”
The earthquake, as simulated in the Homeland Defender scenario, caused a vital bridge to collapse, notionally isolating a community and hindering land-based search, rescue, retrieval and evacuation efforts.
The engineer company is then summoned for assistance through the Defense Support of Civil Authorities process, which enables the military to aid in tasks typically conducted by civilian agencies.
“We have [Zodiac] boats that can look for victims and survivors in flooding waters, and if bridges collapse like in this scenario, we can help get land vehicles and other support elements from one side to the other,” said Cashion.
The bridge company Soldiers arrived at the water gap with boating equipment and ribbon bridge bays loaded onto their common bridge transporter trucks.
The first equipment in the water during a wet gap crossing is the Bridge Erection Boats (BEBs). Then each bay of the floating bridge is offloaded one by one.
“When a bay falls into the water, a BEB picks it up,” said Sgt. Cameron Maley, a bridge crew member in the unit. “Then the deckhand for that boat preps it and gets it ready as much as they can.”
Connecting each floating piece takes at least a four-person crew.
“The second BEB will bring the next bay to the first piece that was dropped. Then, crew members will throw ropes to the first deckhands and work together to get the bay in place,” said Maley. “We then connect the bays at four latches and crank a pin into place so the two pieces stick together.”
The bridge crew would repeat this process multiple times, part of their mission essential task list to create a strong, secure floating bridge.
One bridge company has enough equipment to create an enclosed wet gap crossing, meaning a bridge with both sides secured to a shoreline, spanning up to 210 meters. They can also create a structured bridge to cross up to 46 meters without touching the surface of the water.
For Homeland Defender, however, the shore-to-shore distance in the Brush Creek Reservoir at the training site is more than 400 meters. This required a mobile, ferry-like vessel called an assault float bridge to help span the greater distance.
“With a five-float, that provides us with a 20-meter floating raft that we can transport up to three vehicles at a time or as many persons we can put on the float,” Maley said.
According to Cashion, the size and weight of the land vehicles matter. A float this size can support the weight of only one semi-truck and trailer filled with supplies, or if tactically deployed, one fully equipped M1 Abrams Tank and its crew will max the limits of a five-float setup.
During their annual training, the MRBC’s two platoons practiced setting up and tearing down a five-float bridge multiple times to maximize their efficiency.
It takes about 40 personnel to create a five-bay raft, including CBT drivers, BEB drivers, and build crews.
“In the right conditions, we can have everything in the water and hooked up ready to go in 15 minutes,” said Cashion.
In the stillness of the reservoir, the MRBC was able to conduct longitudinal rafting, connecting three boats parallel to the floating bridge with the BEBs providing propulsion and maneuverability for the raft.
With a floating bridge fully intact and BEBs in place, the engineers ferried multiple civilian agencies partaking in the exercise, including Monroe County Fire and Rescue and Butlerville Fire and Rescue teams and Verizon Communications’ disaster response team.
“During DSCA operations, we work with many civilian and military agencies,” said Cashion. “[For Homeland Defender], we are the only Kentucky Guard unit and work with Indiana National Guard, Task Force One from Homeland Security, Taiwan, Slovenia, and local authorities.”
Cashion emphasized the importance of training not only for the 2061st but also for the 206th Engineer Battalion and the capabilities of the Kentucky National Guard.
“This training equips us with vital capabilities to support friendly forces at the division level, enabling us to overcome obstacles like water or trenches that could impede troop maneuverability. Moreover, following this successful exercise, I have complete confidence in my unit’s readiness to respond and provide lifesaving support in future local disasters,” he said.