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NEWS | Aug. 27, 2021

Combined military effort at Yakima Strike

By Maj. Khoran Lee 416th Theater Engineer Command

Joint units trained in a multi-component and joint operational environment in the Yakima Strike wet gap crossing exercise to demonstrate their expertise Aug. 17, 2021.

Soldiers faced their opponent, the Columbia River, which presented challenging conditions, with a depth of 55 feet and a width of 2,640 feet, and fifteen dams upstream, which impacted water flow and depth.

The mission was a joint effort completed with the Marines, Army and Army Reserve. It was as close to full spectrum operations for a wet gap crossing seen in a while, according to leadership. The wet gap crossing required engineers to secure and control an area of water, be it a lake or river, and use floating platforms that allowed bulky fighting and transport vehicles to pass.

Active and Reserve units trained at the Yakima Training Center for two weeks with different training objectives, according to leadership. For some active units it was squad and platoon validation, while for Army Reserve units it was going into the field for the first time to conduct training in ways they have not been able to since the pandemic began.

The gap crossing required special planning and support, according to Lt. Col. Guy “Gus’ Thorton, commander of the 321st Engineer Battalion, out of Boise, Idaho. The 321st were in charge of wet gap engineer crossing operations.

“For our case, it takes primarily a Multi-Role Bridging Company [MRBC], we also had additional assets, such as military police for traffic control, a military dive detachment who did hydrographic surveys and water safety, we had Sapper engineers who did nearside and farside security,” said Thorton.

Before engineers could attempt to enter the river, the 511th Engineer Dive Attachment, out of Fort Eustis, Virginia, used their expert skills to conduct a recon of the water conditions. The dive crew set out in the early morning to assess the water conditions.

“We are working with swift water, anything generating over 1.5 knots. It adds excessive danger that we are trained for and try to be precautious as possible. It’s just an operational environment and it only gets worse, so we try to mitigate that,” said Sgt. Tyler Tyson, with 511th Engineer Dive Attachment.

Getting this information is key to wet gap crossing success, according to leadership.

“We do a nearside velocity depth reading and then we send that report up to the Battalion Commander [321st Engineer Battalion], who will then say this is a suitable location for wet gap crossing,” said 1st Lt. Oliva Schretzman of the 511th Engineer Dive Attachment. “The velocity reading will tell you if these boats or rafts can maneuver in this location.”

The 671st MRBC, based out of Clackamas, Oregon, set out to execute their role in the mission; instrumental in this phase was Sgt. Hoang Tran, launch crew chief, in charge of watching the equipment offload from shoreline out to the river. Tran had to make sure the bridge erection boat and rafts were safely offloaded.

“We are doing rafting operations,. We do multi-role bridging, whether it’s a dry or a wet gap. We use the float rafts to transport vehicles, equipment or personnel from Point A to Point B. It’s been uphill, we have a lot of new soldiers in the unit. When COVID happened, we weren’t training and we got rusty,” said Tran.

According to Capt. Hung Nyguen, 671st MRBC commander, “we are one of the few MRBC across the active, Guard, and Reserve that can conduct wet gap crossings. This is the first time since COVID-19 that units have been able to participate in a culminating exercise,” said Nyguen. “We are definitely enhancing our maneuver, but we are showcasing our capabilities to the adversaries to show that we are here to fight the fight.”

For this exercise the units found out that the biggest training success was the personal relationships that were built. “The first time we go to combat is not the first time we want to meet our brothers to the left and right,” said Col. Jeff Hall, brigade commander of the 555th Engineer Brigade based out of Joint Base Lewis McChord.

“These types of exercises are extremely beneficial. It’s not often we get to get our boats in the water. When we do do them, we need to make sure those things are done to standard. Coming to Yakima Strike for two weeks to test those engineer skills is money well spent,” said Hall.

The 416th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) team where on ground at the site to observe the training. “Today I observed the NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] and the Officers up on that hill,” said 416th TEC Command Sgt. Maj. Michael T. Boyd. “This operation was being led by junior NCOs and junior enlisted. Outstanding job, especially for a lot of first time bridgers out here doing this.”

“Everywhere you go, there is going to be a river that you are going to cross and you need capabilities to cross it. In order to support the greater military effort and project forces across the gap and into the fight to counter any adversary, we need to have the capability and ability to bridge and get those forces to where they need to be in an orderly fashion,” said Thorton.

The completion of the exercise provided enhancement to maneuver elements to seize mission objectives, making the Soldiers a force multiplier to maneuver and joint land forces. The 555th Engineer Brigade (active), 321st Engineer Battalion (Reserve), F Company, 2-135th General Support Aviation Battalion (active), 671st Multi-Role Bridging Company (MRBC) (Reserve), 374th Sapper Company (active), 6th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (Marines), 170th Military Police (active), and the 511th Engineer Dive Attachment (active) partnered during the exercise.