News: Stryker engineers first to emplace bridge by air since fielding
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Few ever expect to see a roughly 10,000-pound, 45-foot metal bridge flown overhead, but to the engineers of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, it was just their latest innovative way of providing mobility for their brigade.
The 38th Engineer Company's Mobility Support Platoon (MSP), part of 4th SBCT, became the first fielded unit to sling load and emplace by air the Rapidly Emplaced Bridge (REB), according to the REB system acquisition manager, Rick Mitchell, during training April 3 and 4 here.
Partnered with the company’s combat engineer platoons and supported by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crew from Company B, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, the bridge crewmen of MSP demonstrated the speed and flexibility of a combined arms approach to their mission.
The engineer company is responsible for assuring the Stryker brigade’s mobility across the battlefield, so that frontline units can close with and destroy the enemy, breaching or bypassing any obstacles along the way.
“We aim to provide the brigade and battalion commanders with an asset that will make the units more combat effective,” said Capt. Jefferson D. Mason, the 38th Eng. Company commander.
Bridging gaps up to 42 feet with the REB is one way MSP can increase the mobility and combat effectiveness of Stryker units.
Fully trained on launching and retrieving the REB from its carrier vehicle, the Common Bridge Transporter (CBT), the platoon sought to achieve the bridge’s full potential by exercising its air transportability for the first time.
"What we're doing here is bringing another tool to the fight," said 1st Lt. Phil Cotter, the MSP platoon leader.
Emplacing the bridge by air makes it more flexible since it can be placed by helicopter in more locations and in less time than with the CBT, he explained.
During previous gap-crossing operations at Yakima Training Center in February, MSP deployed the bridge over an anti-tank ditch just within the 12-minute standard. With the aviation support, emplacement took less than five minutes.
“(Saving) five minutes is a big deal when you're in the breach,” Cotter added.
The sling load operation, however, introduced a new set of unique challenges and training requirements for the bridge crews.
Prior to transport of the REB, the ground crew had to prepare the sling load, secure the cables and tie-downs on the bridge, then hook it to the underside of the aircraft as it hovered just inches over their heads.
Staff Sgt. Marvin Brown, a squad leader with MSP, directed the sling load operation from the ground, guiding the aircraft into place and leading the ground crew as they took on the unfamiliar task of hooking a bridge to a helicopter.
"If (the hookup crew) never experienced rotor wash off a CH-47, with the REB you have a limited platform to stand on, so you have to be very aware of your surroundings and what your other teammates are doing," Brown said, describing the challenge.
"The first time doing anything, you're always nervous, so the pressure's on, and you just prevail and overcome," he added.
The actual emplacement of the bridge was executed as part of a simulated assault on an enemy position.
MSP soldiers used their Deployable Universal Combat Earthmovers (DUECEs), a type of military bulldozer, to dig the “enemy” anti-tank ditch which would block the advance of the Strykers.
The attack began with the rhythmic pulse of simulated machine guns and mortars, as Sapper platoons from 38th Eng. Company maneuvered their Strykers to provide near-side security of the planned crossing site.
With Stryker weapon systems suppressing the enemy, the CH-47 carrying the REBS arrived overhead, seizing the window of opportunity to safely fly in, carefully lower the bridge across the gap, release the connecting cables, and depart.
Four Strykers then crossed the newly emplaced bridge and moved forward as the assault element, attacking and defeating the enemy position.
Following the exercise, the soldiers reflected on the value of the training during their after-action review.
For Cotter, coordination and communication were an important part of the exercise.
"In a combined arms fight ... those are issues you run into, whether it's with big guns from (2nd Bn., 12th Field Artillery Regt., 4th SBCT), or from aviation assets external to the brigade,” Cotter said. “It's something we have to get used to, so it's a good learning experience.”
The helicopter crew also shared positive feedback on the training, stating it was as valuable for them as for the engineer soldiers on the ground.
“It was fantastic in the sense that it’s not something we get to do very often,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marc Boxberger, aviation safety officer for Company B, 1st Bn., 214th Aviation Regt.
“The ground guys trained up very well and were very professional and safe in all aspects of (the operation),” he continued. “They made our job flying in here a lot easier.”
For Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darrick Nelson, instructor pilot for Company B, 1st Bn., 214th Aviation Regt., the training underscored the value of working as a combined arms team, especially at a base where so many diverse units can train together.
"It's really fortunate we have so many different types of army assets here," Nelson said. "The camaraderie is pretty good ... Army aviation serves the ground commander, and the ground commander wants us to fly a bridge this time, so we fly a bridge."
The 4th SBCT is preparing to complete its rigorous training cycle with a culminating brigade exercise in June at the National Training Center in California.
Date Posted:04.13.2012 19:03
Location:JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA, US
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