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    Engineers Teach, Learn, and Test Their Capabilities at Camp Ripley



    Story by Spc. Elizabeth Hackbarth 

    364th Theater Public Affairs Support Element

    CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. – “Us engineers, we make the path for you to get from point A to point B,” explained Spc. Ethan Wolf, a horizontal construction engineer with the 661st Engineer Company, 123rd Engineer Battalion, Illinois Army National Guard.

    At Camp Ripley, the 661st have been doing just that as they work to repair and construct a two-mile long trail through the woods for tanks and other tracked-vehicles.

    “You don’t want your tracked-vehicles running on your [paved] roads or the roads that you run wheeled-vehicles on because it will tear them up,” said Sgt. Cody Huffman, a horizontal construction engineer with 661st and non-commissioned officer in charge of the operation. “So you make specific tank trails for them to travel on.”

    “Over time, they wear down, so we’re here to touch them up a little bit, get them back into working order, try to reshape what’s there so that they’ll last for hopefully a couple more years before someone comes back and takes care of them again,” said Huffman.

    The tank trail that the 661st has been tasked with improving had become severely damaged over the past several years.

    “There’s a lot of bumps, a lot of potholes, so we’re gonna try to cut and fill all of those and make it so it’s smooth and you’re not bouncing around everywhere,” said Wolf.

    Not only is the trail in poor condition, but following the previous night’s rainfall of nearly two inches, the potholes have turned into puddles of muddy water.

    “The rain has been making everything more difficult to dig in,” said Wolf. “We have to scoop out all the water first and then swap it with dry dirt.”

    “There’s one pretty significant hole at the road that intersects the tank trail,” said Huffman. “We’ve been calling it the pond.”

    Despite the weather challenges, the Soldiers have not been deterred.

    “I think this project has taught us you’ve got to stay flexible and shift fire,” said Huffman.

    The 661st arrived at Camp Ripley for their two-weeks of Annual Training with the tank trail as their main mission.

    “We don’t necessarily have a tremendously large project at hand, but it is a perfect opportunity for junior soldiers and junior [non-commissioned officers] to both operate and be put into leadership roles one or two above their own,” said Huffman. “ Like myself, I’m acting as a platoon sergeant and a [non-commissioned officer in charge] of this project. We also have corporals in squad leader positions.”

    “This is a project where anything that’s not right we can always go back and fix,” said Huffman. “It’s not detrimental. It’s not like we’re pouring concrete or asphalt. It’s a tank trail. We’ve got a really good opportunity for people to both learn and teach.”

    For most of the lower-enlisted Soldiers, that means more “stick time.” “Stick time” refers to the hands-on operating time with the heavy machinery.

    “You can only perfect [operating the machinery] with practice,” said Wolf. “The two-weeks for AT is really beneficial because most of it is just stick time. So we’re all operating, we’re all switching, using all of the equipment we have here.”

    “There are techniques that a lot of lower-enlisted [Soldiers] might not know, but that’s why we’re out here,” said Wolf. “It gives them a chance to learn and learn how to make the mission successful.”

    “Stick time is something we don’t always get throughout the year,” said Huffman. “You might get one or two opportunities throughout the year, but here [with Annual Training] we’ve got five straight days to get in as much [stick time] as we possibly can. And we’ll use every bit of it.”

    For the 661st, Annual Training allows the unit to test and evaluate their capabilities.

    “It gives us the opportunity to use everything that we have to try and get the job done,” said Huffman. “We’re using all of our own equipment, all of our own trucks, all of our own personnel, and all of our own knowledge to try and complete the task at hand.”

    In the end, a tank trail is just a fraction of what the horizontal construction engineers are capable of.

    “[Some might say] I move dirt, and I move things that move dirt,” said Huffman. “[But that’s] an oversimplification. Of course our job is to support combat [Soldiers] and make sure they can get to the enemy. But our role [is also] to do anything we’re needed.”

    “There isn’t anything that a group of engineers can’t pull off,” said Huffman. “We can do anything from pull security to dig tank ditches and defilades. We can repair roads and runways, and we can blow stuff up. That’s why our motto is essayons (“let us try”). Anything and everything we possibly can get accomplished, we’ll do it.”



    Date Taken: 07.15.2022
    Date Posted: 07.20.2022 14:12
    Story ID: 425368
    Location: CAMP RIPLEY, MN, US 

    Web Views: 27
    Downloads: 2