Story by Sgt. Brent C. Powell
204th Public Affairs Detachment
FORT IRWIN, Calif., - Military helicopters fly hundreds of missions around the world everyday performing a variety of tasks such as medical evacuations, VIP escorts, resupply and aerial combat support.
A group of Soldiers here recently spent a few days working hard to ensure when a helicopter needs to land at the National Training Center it will be able to do so safer than before.
The Soldiers are combat engineers from the 327th Combat Engineer Company from Onalaska and Lady Smith, WS. They spent three days of backbreaking work here to build a helicopter-landing pad (helipad) as part of Operation Sand Castle 2009.
The annual operation brings together nearly 2000 Army Reserve combat engineers from around the country to hone their mechanical and tactical skills in a desert environment.
"We were anticipating constructing a helipad when we arrived at the NTC," said 1st Lt. Levi Rognholt, commanding officer, 327th Eng. Co., 367th Eng. Battalion. "When the decision was finalized on the location, it was a high-priority mission for us."
The engineers began working on the site July 17th. It is located just a few hundred yards from the National Urban Warfare Center here also called Tiefort City.
The location will allow rapid medical evacuations from the area, resupply if needed and will also allow VIPs and other personnel to arrive quickly at the desolate site.
Other advantages to having a permanent concrete landing pad include less debris being kicked up into the air. Flying debris can damage the helicopter and dust stirred up by the rotors can temporarily blind the pilot.
"Once the site was selected, we had site surveyors survey the area," said Rognholt. "Then we had our horizontal units bring in several loads of rock to level the site. Next we dug the footers, installed the support forms and rebar. We finished preparing the site today and we had approximately 46-yards of concrete poured."
The team has been working long hours to complete the mission on time. On the last day, work began at approximately 3:30 a.m.
An hour later concrete trucks began rolling in and the engineers began working furiously using rakes, shovels and boards to get the concrete spread and finished before it hardened.
"I've never seen concrete set as quickly as it did today," said Sgt. Jeremy D. Danner, carpentry and masonry specialist from the 327th Eng. Co., and noncommissioned officer in charge of the helipad project. "I've never been able to walk on it in less than 30 minutes, but today it was setting in half that time."
Another challenge facing the group was simply inexperience. "We have an inexperienced crew out here that has never done a project this big before," said Danner. "It shows them how to hustle. They learned that when the mud starts pouring they've gotta be moving."
One of the new Soldiers was Pfc. Justin J. Peterson, a 22-year-old carpentry and masonry specialist from St. Charles, MN. "This project was really good training for me," he said. "I've learned a lot about teamwork, motivation and that on a project like this you've got to be ready to work."
When the team was done for the day they covered the pad with plastic to allow it to harden properly. In the next few days their hard work will be ready for the first helicopter to touch down.
"It's very rewarding seeing the finished product," said Danner. "Chances are that this pad will be here for 20 or 30 years. It's nice to know that I had a role in building something that will play a part in Army training here for many years to come."