CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. - Despite initial estimates topping $19 million, California Army National Guardsmen are in the final stages of resurfacing a large portion of the Camp Roberts Parade Field/Heliport with a cutting-edge, eco-friendly compound for only $1.5 million, and just in time for the Army Guard’s massive annual training exercise.
Thus far the project has reclaimed 54 acres of the 87-acre stretch of open space at the heart of Camp Roberts’ garrison area, transforming the dilapidated, deeply-cracked and weed-ridden surface from a safety hazard into a viable staging area for large-scale aviation or ground troop assemblies.
“The parade field had deteriorated to the point that nearly every time we landed a Black Hawk there, we would break a windshield [from rocks and debris kicking up],” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Clark, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot with more than 25 years in the cockpit. “After the cost of the [glass] and the installation, [the repairs cost] just under $10,000 a shot. We broke as many as 10 in an annual training period, and add to that the risk of pulling that same debris into the helicopter’s intake and damaging a $450,000 [turbine-engine]. … It was time for a fix.”
Upon his return from Iraq in 2012, Clark heard Maj. Gen. Keith Jones, a leader he had served under before, had taken command of Camp Roberts. He approached the general and pitched his idea.
“When I first drove in to take command of Camp Roberts, there were actually small trees growing on the parade field. It was just kind of a heartbreaking sight,” said Jones, who had seen three entire Army Guard battalions cover the field in 1991 before deploying in response to the Los Angeles riots. “[Clark’s] motivations were right in line with our state and national leaderships’ vision of moving the post in the direction of becoming a regional collective training center. That space is of great strategic value for us as an organization, and I was confident he had the aviation pedigree and the leadership ability to find a solid resolution.”
Clark was brought on as Camp Roberts’ acting aviation operations officer and set to work assembling a team of Guardsmen with the expertise to envision, research, resource and execute the tall task at hand.
“To [renovate] it with older technology [like asphalt or concrete] was really cost-prohibitive, hence the reason it had devolved into such disrepair,” Clark said. “We knew there had to be a better way.”
Contractors projected a $19 million tab to repave the space with asphalt.
Clark linked up with Warrant Officer 1 Joshua Brazil, a general contractor who had just started as the full-time supervisor of the base’s directorate of public works and they set out to find a low-cost, long-term means to control dust and debris and stabilize the soil.
“While I was back at the Army’s engineering schoolhouse, I proposed our problem to the experts there, and they said without hesitation ‘Rhino Snot’ was what we needed,” Brazil said.
After months researching and comparing options, they decided to move forward with Envirotac II, also known as Rhino Snot. This eco-friendly polymer binding agent got its nickname from the Marine Corps’ success with it at Camp Rhino, Iraq. It works like a glue, bonding sand, rock and dirt together and forming a water-tight barrier. It can also be churned into dirt and compacted to form a durable asphalt-like surface, pliable and hard enough to support heavy traffic. This was the result Clark and Brazil were after.
Rhino Snot also offered a more environmentally sound alternative to asphalt or concrete, while providing a barrier that won’t break down when exposed to aviation fuel and fluids — a chronic issue with petroleum-based surfaces like asphalt.
“This is a classic soil-stabilization project. The military has been doing this since well before World War II,” Brazil said. “It’s just that nowadays on a large scale you can’t put lime, concrete [or petroleum products] in the soil without having a negative environmental impact. Polymers are the way ahead.”
Another essential contributor to the plan was Maj. Brian Stark, a full-time plans officer for Camp Roberts with a background in military finance. His mantra: “Vision without funding is a hallucination.”
Stark recognized the project as an opportunity to leverage military and civilian skills within the Guard. This key decision provided Soldiers with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to hone their engineering skills, which saved the base more than $1.8 million in contracting costs in the end.
To lead the operation, they brought on 1st Sgt. Ralph Baltz, an infantryman who had spent more than a decade managing underground construction crews in and around Sacramento.
“We were able to run this project solely as a training mission,” he said. “We brought in 11 [heavy equipment operators] from a mixture of different engineer units around the state, and I ran the crew as if it were a civilian job. This was a huge resume builder for these Soldiers. … They couldn’t get experience like this [in the military] unless they were overseas building a runway on a deployment.”
The crews pulverized the existing layer of asphalt then set to work churning it together with the first five inches of soil, while injecting the Rhino Snot and utilizing heavy equipment to compact and smooth the mixture.
“I learned a lot seeing the whole process from beginning to end — how the [polymer] reacts with the dirt and how compact it gets. … It’s like asphalt. It’s solid,” said Sgt. Larry Gaitan of the 1401st Engineer Detachment at Camp Roberts, who is in charge of mixing and applying the binding agent. “I think Soldiers are going to be pretty impressed with it, especially considering what we had before and the improvement with the dust and debris suppression.”
The completed portion of the heliport can accommodate 28 Black Hawks and twelve CH-47 Chinook helicopters. It will be finished just in time to support the California Army National Guard’s consolidated annual training in June, which will be the largest such training event in more than a decade.
In July the engineers will complete the second phase of the rehabilitation, which will add space for 21 more helicopters. There are even plans in the works to revitalize a dirt landing strip on Camp Roberts with the same process so it can support C-130 cargo airplanes.
“For the little amount of money we’ve put into this project, we’ve gotten so much more than just a [parade field and airfield]; we’ve developed a tremendous capability,” Brazil said. “Now that our engineers understand this product and the process, we can do this all over this base now or even in a deployed environment.”
This project is one of many the Guard has undertaken as part of a five-year $102 million initiative to revitalize Camp Roberts and maintain the historic post as a premier training facility for Guard, reserve and active duty military forces.
“Driving on post, the parade field is one of the first things you see. It literally and figuratively sits at the heart of Camp Roberts. Now we’ve got something to be proud of,” Clark said. “Treating our equipment right and our Soldiers right is key to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and this project only furthers that initiative.”
|Date Posted:||06.05.2014 05:42|
|Location:||CAMP ROBERTS, CA, US|
This work, $17.5 million under budget, eco-friendly and right on time: Camp Roberts rehabilitates parade field/heliport, by CPT Jan Bender, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.