By CPT Anthony Richards
Devens Reserve Forces Training Area Public Affairs
Aug 4, 2023
DEVENS, Mass. – “The work ethic, absolutely the work ethic has made me the most proud,” said CPT Joseph D’Antuono, Commander of the 990th Engineer Vertical Construction Company (EVCC), about the work his Soldiers accomplished during their annual training mission at U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Devens Reserve Forces Training Area (RFTA).
“They were working double shifts, late nights, sometimes past 1 a.m. That is not something you typically see – [Soldiers] out here with light sets [and poor weather conditions] working through long, challenging shifts.”
The 854th Engineer Battalion, Saugerties, N.Y., broke ground on the gas chamber replacement project less than one month ago at the Devens RFTA range in Devens, Massachusetts. Their mission: tear down the nearly 50-year-old, deteriorating, wooden gas chamber and construct a new cement structure in its place, utilizing the existing concrete foundational slab.
The mission was straight forward and sounded simple, but challenges and setbacks with project materials, weather, and construction rework, forced the engineer companies of the 854th to work longer hours than expected and implement on-the-spot creative solutions under tight deadlines to ensure the project was completed on time and to standard.
Among the creative solutions that ensured the project remained on schedule, was the installation of the door frame.
“The door openings were too small for the door, so we had to cut [channels] into the [cement] blocks in order to slide the door in from above,” explained 2LT Rachael Pletz, officer in charge of the construction project.
It had been five years since the 990th EVCC were tasked to construct a concrete masonry unit (CMU) (concrete blocks) -based structure. Therefore, most of the Soldiers had little to no experience working with the concrete material. An initial period of trial, error, and learning from their mistakes was inevitable.
In one instance, the team had to tear down and rework a section of concrete wall in order to ensure it met plum, square and leveling standards. Despite the time-consuming setback, the 990th Soldiers remained vigilant and resilient. They learned from their mistakes and continued with the mission – sometimes working late nights and under pouring rain to meet key project milestones.
The project manager, SGT Ryan Vause, a Carpentry and Masonry Specialist (12W) and native of Levittown, Pennsylvania, was vital to overcoming this challenge and more during the final two weeks of construction. His five years of experience as a 12W in the U.S. Army Reserve – in addition to his civilian experience as a construction manager – equipped him with the knowledge and work experience that his leaders and Soldiers relied upon to make impactful project decisions.
“[The Soldiers] hopped right back in, got back in there and learned to do better. Their block work [quality] greatly increased and I’m really proud of them,” said Vause about his team’s resiliency and eagerness to learn from their mistakes.
On the eve of their scheduled return home to New Jersey, the third and final rotation of 854th Engineer Battalion units – the 990th and 306th engineer companies – were working through the evening to finalize the roof and clean up the construction site. USAG Devens RFTA Commander LTC Joshua Bloom and CSM Jaime Rogers visited the troops to conduct a well-deserved recognition ceremony. Nearly 20 Soldiers received coins from the garrison command team for their outstanding work and dedication to the mission.
“They’ve truly not only helped the installation, they’ve helped the entire Army Reserve in the northeast,” said LTC Bloom.
As a result of Devens RFTA collaboration with the 854th Engineer Battalion, the garrison saved significant costs in base improvements and the 854th Soldiers were able to practice their military occupation specialty skills and mission essential tasks – invaluable components to improving the unit’s overall readiness and deployment capabilities.
The new and improved gas chamber improves Devens RFTA training capabilities by providing a longer lasting, safe structure and another quality training resource for tenant units, all branches of the military, local law enforcement, and research and development entities.
In addition to the gas chamber, the 854th Engineer Battalion completed other range improvements during the month-long mission that included improvement of a weapons range fire break, a rifle range berm enhancement, and plumbing and electrical support for buildings on Devens RFTA main post.
Devens RFTA is the premier military training installation in New England and the primary choice for the regional Joint Force to meet current and emerging requirements.
For more information or assistance with reserving a Devens RFTA training resource, visit: https://home.army.mil/devens/.