News: Wyoming National Guard fields latest Army bridge system
Story by 2nd Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. – With small wakes generated by their boats in the otherwise calm waters of the Guernsey Reservoir, a platoon of Wyoming Army National Guard soldiers repeatedly disassemble and reassemble what looks like a floating stretch of highway, complete with a yellow line down the center.
The handpicked soldiers of the 1041st Engineer Company, based in Wyoming armories in Rock Springs, Evanston and Afton, worked in the nearly 100-degree July heat, to ensure they were proficient enough to train the rest of their company to use the new Improved Ribbon Bridge, or IRB.
“As a whole, I think it’s been a quick and smooth process,” said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Leavitt, the 1041st’s non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the training and fielding of the new bridge. “We already understand the concept. We understand how it’s supposed to work.”
The IRB replaces the SRB, or Standard Ribbon Bridge, developed in the 1970s. Both systems use individual bays, which are pieced together to span waterways or used as a massive raft.
Each IRB bay is 22.7 feet long. Wyoming was assigned 44 bays and eight ramps. Bridges include as many bays as it takes to go from shore to shore, with ramps at both ends. Assuming all of the bays are used, the 1041st could create a bridge spanning more than 1,000 feet.
Both the SRB and IRB can reach out to great lengths. The differences between the two are in the details.
“It’s less about the capabilities of the bridge and more about the approach and departure angle of the ramps,” said David Hutton. Hutton works as an instructor and technical advisor for AM General, the company that designed the IRB.
According to Hutton, the older SRB was limited by a ramp that could only adjust to bank heights of no more than 3 feet. The IRB can load vehicles from bank heights of more than two meters, more than twice the height of its predecessor. That means being able to operate from more locations in combat or in a state-side emergency.
“The Army is in a constant flux of change,” Hutton said of the weapons and transportation systems and equipment in the Army. “We need new capabilities to support these kinds of systems.”
The IRB is capable of transporting a heavy equipment transport, think armored semi-truck, carrying an M1A2 Abrams tank, totaling around 130 tons. However, Hutton said it’s less about tonnage and more about weight dispersal, particularly when serving as a raft.
Whether set up as a raft or bridge, a compliment of eight Soldiers and less than a handful of boats are used to piece together the bays and maintain control of the bays while dealing with water currents and wind.
“The guys here know how to conduct bridging the way the Army does bridging, and that hasn’t changed,” said Hutton, a former Soldier and bridge crew member.
For the Soldiers of the 1041st, the new float bridge system comes at a time when they are gaining back their sea legs. Many with the 1041st returned from a deployment to Iraq in 2007. They deployed, not as a float bridge unit, but as force protection, escorting convoys on the road.
“For me, it’s the first time I’ve been out on a boat, or on a raft in quite a while,” Leavitt said.
While it’s been more than a year since their return, the Soldiers are limited on when they can get on the water. For those who deployed, there is a process for them to run through which takes 3-4 months before returning to their normal training. Then units begin the training cycle with the fundamentals of Soldiering.
Also, there’s the environmental factor, or the reaction water has to Wyoming’s sub-freezing temperatures.
“It’s not like you can put that thing out in the winter,” Leavitt said. “We need water.”
Winter training is reserved for driver’s training and other critical operations, but ice prevents the unit from operating boats.
Leavitt said his older Soldiers, with the deployment and training cycles behind them, and the newer ones, fresh from military schools, are at a point where experience and knowledge are matching up well.
“We’re all on the same sheet of music and we’re going from there,” he said. “I think we’ve adapted very well.”