News: Engineers stand ready to help the nation
Story by Sgt. Samuel Northrup
FORT HOOD, Texas – Dust kicked up behind the Air Force C-130 Hercules as it landed in the dirt airfield. As the propellers continued to turn, the bay door opened. Soldiers readied light medium tactical vehicles, Humvees, and an interim high mobility engineer excavator (IHMEE). These engineers were called in because the unthinkable had happened: an IED blew up a nuclear fuel rod storage facility, affecting approximately 50,000 people around the area.
This was the scenario given to the 68th Engineer Company (Horizontal), 62nd Engineer Battalion for their emergency deployment readiness exercise Feb. 12 at Fort Hood.
The exercise was in preparation for their Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives Response Force mission.
“Communication is key with everything we do,” said Capt. Ian Griffith, commander for 68th Engineer Company. “I have three different operations going on: an airlift, a ground convoy and the construction of a decontamination site.”
The airlift operation transported vehicles and personnel from Robert Gray Army Airfield to Hammer Airfield, which was constructed by 68th Engineer Company, on Fort Hood.
While soldiers were being airlifted in preparation for their mission, airmen supporting the airlift were getting valuable training as well, as they often support joint operations.
“The Air Force needed the training as well,” said Air Force Capt. Nicholas Collins, an air mobility liaison officer with 615th Contingency Operation Support Group. “Loadmasters have to get trained on these vehicles; they never had to take air out of a light medium tactical vehicle’s tires before, and the pilots got to practice landing on dirt airfields.”
After the equipment was unloaded from the aircraft at Hammer Airfield, the engineers began their mission of route reconnaissance and sanitation. The engineers used equipment such as the IHMEE, an armored backhoe-loader that is able to self-deploy at highway speeds compatible with military convoys for route sanitation.
“Sanitizing the routes means using our engineer equipment to push debris such as vehicles and trees off the road to make way for the first responders' vehicles,” said 2nd Lt. Carson Wren, 3rd platoon leader for 68th Engineer Company. “Route reconnaissance is to ensure that the emergency vehicles can travel down the main supply route and the roads will be able support the vehicles size and weight.”
After the engineers were done with clearing the way for emergency responders, they had to be decontaminated before continuing their mission.
“We are constructing sump holes for the decontamination site using D7 bulldozers,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Guerrero, a platoon sergeant with 68th Engineer Company. “A sump hole collects the contaminated water from the vehicles that are being washed. Anyone who is coming in from one of the contaminated areas would come here to decontaminate equipment and personnel.”
Contamination is an issue the Air Force personnel have to consider as well, said Collins. The Air Force would have to ensure the landing zone is not contaminated; otherwise the aircraft and personnel would also have to be decontaminated before leaving the site.
According to Collins, joint-service training at battalion level is rare for the Air Force and the Army, but is a capability that needs to be expanded upon for both organizations.
“It is joint training efforts that save on budget costs,” said Collins. “To rent an aircraft, 36th Engineer Brigade would have to pay out of pocket, but the Army and the Air Force can accomplish the training requirements they both need by using the relationships and resources within both services.”
As the Army and Air Force trained, all service members had the added perspective of helping those in the homeland.
“It creates a good feeling in everyone’s heart knowing that we can support civilian men and women here within the U.S.,” said Griffith. “If we can do anything to support our countrymen at home, we are more than happy to.”