News: Wisconsin Guard unit builds innovative summer training mission
Story by Vaughn Larson
LAKE TOMAHAWK, Wis. — Visitors to Camp American Legion, including veterans with disabilities or limited mobility, now have an easier time getting to Big Carr Lake thanks to the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 824th Engineer Company and 824th Engineer Detachment.
The 16 soldiers spent two weeks replacing a hazardous dirt and gravel path leading to a lakeside concrete pier with an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant wooden ramp for wheelchairs, as well as a concrete ramp for electric golf carts or all-terrain vehicles. As a result, campers who require wheelchairs or walkers can now access the lake independent of support staff.
The 829th worked on this project under Innovative Readiness Training guidelines. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nick Grob, the officer in charge for the project, said getting this project approved as an IRT was a two-year effort. The project has to be announced in a public newspaper of record three times without response from private-sector contractors, and then must be approved by the National Guard Bureau.
"They also have to factor in the costs to the government, the National Guard and the taxpayers, and what kind of benefits will be realized," Grob added.
The National Guard did not fund any of the raw materials, parts or equipment — referred to as a bill of materials — needed to complete the project. The American Legion purchased all the expendable items required, such as saw blades and drill bits. Camp American Legion fed and housed the Soldiers during the 14-day, 1,300 man-hour project.
Grob said numerous benefits were realized from the Camp American Legion project.
"We got all sorts of [military occupational skill]-specific training," he explained. "We also were able to get in some driver's training on some of the equipment" such as a backhoe, a skid steer and a 10-ton dump truck, "and our noncommissioned officers got some great training leading teams for two weeks."
Kevin Moshea, Camp American Legion’s director, acknowledged that the steep terrain, woodline and lakeshore combined for a demanding work environment.
"It presented them with unique construction and engineering challenges," he said. "This was a great learning exercise and a great team-building exercise, and I think an incredibly productive experience for them."
Capt. Kyle Gruber, the 829th Engineer Company commander, said his troops were motivated for this particular mission.
"This is what they joined the unit to do," he explained. "They are providing a cost-effective finished product for an organization that — without their efforts — may not have been possible. This is a very strong retention and recruiting tool."
Grob said the soldiers' enthusiasm grew as they gained a better understanding of the mission and scope of services Camp American Legion provides for military veterans.
"I was proud to do this," Grob said. "Some of the guys working on the project thanked me for the opportunity to work on it."
Moshea suggested that the 829th built more than user-friendly lake access for military veterans.
"Beyond the cement, mortar and rebar, this was really a great relationship builder," Moshea said. "It took our relationship to a much higher level."