Story by Sgt. Brent C. Powell
204th Public Affairs Detachment
FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Drills drilled, saws sawed and hammers hammered here recently as more than 40 Army Reserve Soldiers sharpened their engineering skills by constructing metal buildings at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Miami, deep in the heart of the National Training Center here.
The Soldiers, combat engineers from the 492nd Combat Engineer Company, 367th Engineer Battalion, are here conducting their Annual Training (AT) as part of Operation Sand Castle 2009.
The annual operation brings together reserve combat engineer units from around the United States and gives them the opportunity to hone their tactical and engineering skills in a desert environment.
"Our unit's mission is to build and maintain FOBs or existing bases, conduct site improvements and basically manage construction projects," said Sgt. 1st Class Dan Toleno, platoon sergeant, 2nd Platoon, 492nd Eng. Co. "We do all kinds of missions, but primarily we focus on construction and worksite management."
One of the engineers' missions here was to repair a metal building called a Quonset hut at FOB Miami and construct two additional Quonset huts from the ground up.
Leaving FOB Santa Fe early in a 12-vehicle-convoy, the engineers set out towards FOB Miami to get to work on the construction project. Shortly into the mission however, the convoy encountered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) as well as enemy resistance.
The engineers immediately snapped into action seizing control of the situation and eliminating both the IED threat and the enemy resistance while taking no casualties themselves.
"We had some great tactical training on the way to the jobsite, and I'm very proud of how these guys performed," said Toleno. "All of my NCOs (non-commissioned officers) have been deployed to combat areas, and to see them take the lessons learned from their combat experience and apply those to a very realistic battlefield here is fantastic."
After defeating the enemy resistance and clearing the area for additional threats, the engineers mounted up and continued to the jobsite.
Upon arriving at the scene the unit conducted a short after-action report (AAR) and then began sharpening their engineering skills by repairing a metal Quonset hut that has been damaged during high winds.
The engineers used a large crane to help them navigate metal panels of the building into place. Once the panels were aligned the Soldiers placed hundreds of bolts and nuts in the structure to make it safe and sturdy.
"These metal buildings pose a special challenge," said Toleno. "There are so many bolts and holes in each of the panels that just getting them lined up perfectly is difficult."
Despite the challenges and temperatures well over 100 degrees, the engineers got a good portion of the once damaged building repaired and readied it for use by future units who come to the NTC to train.
"We get two-phase training out of this operation," said Toleno. "We get both tactical and MOS (military occupational specialty) training. For the guys in our unit who don't do construction work in the civilian world this gives them fantastic training on both sides."
"The job here has definitely been different than what I'm used to," said Pfc. Dillon J. Nelson, interior electrician, 492nd Eng. Co. "I've never worked on a metal building before so I've learned a lot from the experience."
One of the soldiers who enjoyed the tactical training was Pvt. Shaun D. Timmers, a 21-year-old carpentry and masonry specialist from Belle Plaine, MN. "The convoy today was the first convoy I've ever been on," he said. "It was fun, exciting and I learned a lot about how a convoy is conducted, how to work with my fellow soldiers and how to get the mission accomplished."
The unit is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in a few short months, and the training they have received here will help ensure they accomplish their mission overseas.