By Armando Carrasco, JTF-N PAO; 1st Lt. Brigida Sanchez, 65th Eng. Bn.July 30, 2010
FORT BLISS, Texas - A detachment of military engineers from the 82nd Engineer Support Company, 65th Engineer Battalion, based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, completed a month-long deployment to the U.S-Mexico border July 3.
The engineers deployed to Southern California in response to a request for Department of Defense assistance submitted by the U.S. Border Patrol - San Diego Sector. The engineer support company volunteered to repair and upgrade 3.5 miles of border road used by border patrol agents near the Tecate Port of Entry, located southeast of San Diego.
Joint Task Force - North, the U.S. Northern Command element under the operational control of U.S. Army North, coordinated the road project, which was designed to enhance the mobility and safety of the Border Patrol agents responding to suspected illegal activities along the border.
The engineer mission site is a well-known drug and alien smuggling corridor that is patrolled 24 hours a day. The project is a continuation of the U.S. Border Patrol - San Diego Sector's border infrastructure engineer support program.
"Military engineer units from all services execute a variety of construction projects along the Southwest border," said Lt. Col. Larry Stephney, JTF-N staff engineer. "Our engineer support operations provide military engineer units unique training opportunities to exercise multiple skill level tasks in military construction."
The JTF-N support operations provide the volunteer units the opportunity to train on 90 percent of their mission essential task lists - the units' required military wartime duties. In accordance with DoD policy, the JTF-N support missions must provide a training benefit to the volunteer units or make a significant contribution to national security.
"This mission provided us with a unique opportunity to certify our unit on its horizontal construction capabilities for future deployments," said Capt. Joshua Long, commander, 82nd Eng. Spt. Co. "Our unit leaders were exposed to a technical mission that will enhance their capabilities - this is critical to our future success."
JTF-N provided the unit with all the required contracted engineer equipment and maintenance support; the rented commercial equipment is similar to the unit's organic engineer equipment.
"In garrison, we don't get the opportunity to operate equipment very often," said Staff Sgt. Ivan Ramirez, platoon sergeant, 82nd Eng. Spt. Co. "During the five hours of Sergeants' Training Time, our Soldiers only receive about two hours of technical training.
"Here, the Soldiers receive eight hours of technical training each day - for 20 days! That adds up to 160 hours of stick time (actual equipment operating time); that's plenty of time for the Soldiers to become proficient on a variety of equipment."
The unit's newly assigned Soldiers, many on their first deployment, were quick to echo their leader's remarks.
"I have gained a lot of knowledge about my MOS (military occupational specialty), like using the front-end loader, the water distributer, and the HYEX (tracked mounted hydraulic controlled excavator)," said Pvt. Nicholas Lahs, an engineer equipment operator. "The HYEX is my favorite piece of equipment; it feels really great when you finally get the hang of it!"
The 65th Eng. Bn. Soldiers were billeted at a nearby California National Guard training camp and were provided contracted breakfast and dinner meals. The lunchtime meals were MREs. Prior to starting the mission, all participating Soldiers completed mandatory legal, safety and environmental training; the unit deployed to and from San Diego via civilian aircraft.
Engineer support is one of the six different types of support categories that the task force provides to the nation's federal law enforcement agencies.
"The JTF - North missions truly yield a 'Win - Win' situation. The volunteer units gain great training opportunities that are directly related to their military duties, and the nation's law enforcement agencies get much needed support," said Stephney.
For more information on Joint Task Force - North, visit the command's Web site: www.jtfn.northcom.mil.