News: Why wouldn’t soldiers train at Fort Chaffee?
Story by Sgt. Michael Crawford
FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. – Operation River Assault 2013 has come and gone, making this the fourth year in a row where Army Reserve soldiers have crossed the Arkansas River, the most commonly touted reason for the exercise to be conducted here.
“Fort Chaffee is an outstanding place to do this because you’ve got a great river to cross, wider than any other river available for this sort of training,” said Maj. Gen. William Buckler, commanding general of the 412th Theater Engineer Command. “We can conduct all the training we need so soldiers can learn and do the job the right way.”
But Fort Chaffee isn’t the only post that straddles a river, and it certainly isn’t the only post to regularly host annual training missions – Fort Stewart, Ga., and Camp Roberts, Calif., do both. So why has Operation River Assault been held here for the past four years?
The Army Corps of Engineers controls the locks and dams up stream, enabling control over the water levels and traffic on the river so soldiers can train under conditions that maximize the exercise’s potential. Fort Chaffee offers three ideal crossing points across the Arkansas River; the chosen point this year being 300 meters wide.
There’s wildlife and critters on every post, of course, but the initial safety brief reveals more than a few dangerous insects and a strong skunk presence. Lt. Col. Stephen Dale, commander of the 854th Engineer Battalion (Forward Support) based out of Saugerties, N.Y., said the modern amenities keep soldiers comfortably separated from nature, allowing them to get better rest, maintain their focus and ultimately train harder.
“The facilities here are very good,” Dale said. “soldier’s don’t mind living rough … if they think it’s for a good reason. If they think they’re living poorly … or don’t have good facilities just because their leaders aren’t taking care of them … that brings down morale. Our soldiers genuinely appreciate the good facilities that we have here.”
Among those facilities that include climate-controlled barracks, Fort Chaffee features a large Equipment Concentration Site, housing numerous wreckers, boats, haulers and other equipment vital for Operation River Assault. While there are other posts separated by a river, Fort Chaffee has the space available for all the training leading up to the actual exercise.
“It’s a total package for Reserve component units coming to do this type of training,” Dale said. “This is a valuable exercise at multiple levels … all the way down. I’m glad to be here.”
Reservists aren’t the only Soldiers at Fort Chaffee for Operation River Assault. Each year, active duty Soldiers join reservists to bridge the Arkansas River, as well as some Canadian engineers, giving reservists a chance to gain experience with joint operations. Buckler hopes working with reservists will inspire active duty commanders to develop better, integrated training for all soldiers.
“This is a great opportunity for them to gain respect for what we do,” Buckler said. “We’ve been fighting alongside active duty and national guard for 10-12 years. We need to be training that way.”