LAFITTE, La. –
The 361st Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC) under the 926th Engineer Brigade relieved the Puerto Rico National Guard’s 892d MRBC on Oct. 6 to support the Louisiana National Guard’s 2225th MRBC with personnel and procedure support of a Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) Hurricane Ida recovery mission.
Army engineers call the linking of specialized floating rafts to create a bridge as Wet Gap Crossing. Engineer Soldiers secure and control an area of water, be it a lake or river, and use buoyant platforms that allow vehicles (commercial, civilian and military) to cross. Since the 2225th MRBC constructed the linking structure in early September, the 2225th and units supporting their personnel shortfalls assisted over 25,000 vehicles of all types to get to and from Barataria, an island in Jefferson Parish.
First Lt. Stephen McCoppin, 2225th Executive Officer, said that several vessels struck the bridge that previously gave people access to the island during the storm. The 2225th had the tools and skills to provide the community with safe passage.
“The Barataria side was cut off for multiple days after the storm,” said McCoppin. “The local civil authorities had no access to get their first responder vehicles to the other side, in case of emergencies. The local parish - Jefferson Parish - reached out to the Emergency Operation Center and we were contacted, as a bridging company, to conduct ferrying services.”
Shortly after, local officials made the decision to have the 2225th install a more stable solution for needed traffic to support DSCA recovery efforts.
“They decided they wanted to have a full enclosure bridge put in,” said McCoppin. “So, we use an improved ribbon bridge, or float bridge, to build and enclose the entire gap between the Barataria side and the LaFitte side.”
Since that time, the 2225th Soldiers worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week to keep a constant flow of traffic and maintain the structure properly. To prevent fatigue, the National Guard requested support from a National Guard element from Puerto Rico, the 892nd, which the Army Reserve unit, 361st MRBC relieved.
“We’re the only unit back in Puerto Rico that specializes in that kind of work,” said Capt. Victor Solis, 892nd commander. “We raised our hand for providing support for a fellow National Guard unit.”
While Solis and McCoppin agreed that working with other National Guard companies was seamless, McCoppin expressed little concern regarding bringing in the 361st.
“As far as logistics are concerned, we are not in the same bureau,” said McCoppin. “But we go to the same trainings and same schoolhouse, so they’re already spun up on the new models of equipment we are using. We’re looking forward to working together.”
First Lt. Derek Cundiff, commander of the 361st, which resides in Warner Robins, Ga., said that his Soldiers were happy to help the 2225th and work their specialty, Wet Gap bridges, in support of the local community.
“Some of their guys have been here for 30-plus continuous days,” said Cundiff. “We give them the opportunity to get a break, go home, and check their affected areas. We give them relief and operate their bridge with a small element of the 2225th’s guys until a more permanent bridge is complete or about 30 days.”
Cundiff said he was excited to get the chance to work with the National Guard since he previously served in the Kentucky Guard. He explained that DSCA missions are largely in the National Guard domain, making Army Reserve participation a rarity.
“This is very unique for a Reserve unit to get to come in and conduct a DSCA mission,” said Cundiff. “So as soon as I got a Warning Order to go ahead and start planning to get ready for this, I really engaged on it to give my unit the opportunity. Some of these Soldiers can go their whole career and never get the opportunity to come down and actually do a real world mission where you’re supporting your own country.”
Cundiff said working with the National Guard, as a previous member and now an Army Reserve officer, adds value as much as the satisfaction of aiding our local communities. He described the National Guard as a quick reactionary element while the Army Reserve has to balance missions with civilian employers.
“As a company commander, I have to make sure we maintain good relationships between the Soldiers and what they do for a living, what pays the bills,” said Cundiff. “That was a big challenge there, to get these guys in and make sure that they’re on short notice, so they could be gone for 30 days with no real negative impact.”
The 361st now supports the 2225th MRBC with workers and operations at the bridge connecting LaFitte and Barataria with steady assistance from the local authorities, namely the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office whose personnel control vehicles entering and exiting the structure. Together, all components keep recovery and reconstruction efforts steady in the hurricane’s aftermath.