Army Reserve engineers train for Immediate Response Authority

By Staff Sgt. SHAIYLA HAKEEM | 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | Sept. 11, 2017

GRAFTON, W.V. — No bridge, no problem.

The 459th Engineer Company located in New Martinsville, West Virginia and known as the “River Rats,” spent time building on Tygart Lake in a three-day training event to support the Department Of Defense’s Immediate Response Authority. The company practiced assembling and dissembling six sections of an Improved Ribbon Bridge over the lake.

Public and local officials were invited to the marina at Tygart Lake State Park Sept. 8 to view the company putting together an IRA and showcase their bridge building competence. U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Marti Durst, with the 459th Engineer Company, said the exercise was “of course” for Soldier training, but was also used to spread awareness of the unit’s potential.

“We were trying to put together a demonstration of our capabilities and what we can do for disaster flood relief as far as our rafting operations and boats,” explained Durst, “but also for emergency bridge replacement.”

Heavy flooding caused a bridge in to collapse in Elkwood, West Virginia, on June 23, 2016. The collapse left hundreds of citizens temporarily stranded and resulted in an isolated shopping center.

“That could have been an easy fix for us,” said Durst, “We could have put a dry support bridge section over that gap where the bridge washed down and those business could have stayed open.”

According to the Defense Support of Civilian Authorities directive, “DOD officials may provide an immediate response by temporarily employing the resource under their control, subject to any supplemental direction provided by higher headquarters, to save lives, prevent human suffering or mitigate great property damage within the United States.”

Durst explained that under DOD directives, and company commander’s discretion, the company could assist with a 72-hour rescue mission and emergency response support if requested by civil authorities.

The state of West Virginia has a history of flooding and the need for emergency and disaster flood relief. According to a press release published June 30, 2016, by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, there were 657 reported power outages and 356 West Virginia National Guard members were deployed for rescue efforts due to state flooding. It also stated there were 20 confirmed fatalities due to the flooding; 18 of the 20 individuals’ determined cause of death was asphyxiation.

The IRA prescribes the policy is the same for small incidents, local emergencies or large-scale catastrophes. Training is paramount to ensure reserve forces are ready to deploy at any moment. U.S. Army Sgt. Jaron McLain served as bridge commander during the training exercise on Friday. He said the company has a lot of new recruits and the training was a great way to give them hands-on experience and practice. He believes training like this provides the opportunity for Soldiers to learn, make mistakes and learn by those mistakes.

“I would much rather work out the kinks now than somewhere in Iraq,” said McLain. “You can die in practice a million times, but in real life you’ve just got one shot.”