JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. –
In some of the most realistic bridging training to date, the 321st Engineer Battalion of Boise, Idaho, worked through their extended combat training to demonstrate their wartime Army Reserve capabilities.
The critical event of Courage Crossing 22 was to deploy a hasty bridge over a 110-meter lake during a wet gap crossing, but also included infantry reconnaissance, and multi-component and joint U.S. services over the two-week period.
“This is exactly what we would be doing in a combat environment,” said Sgt. Alexander A. Ditch, build crew manager and raft commander for the exercise out of the 671st Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC) of Clackamas, Oregon. Ditch boasted the team finished the complete enclosure across the lake within their 13-minute goal – at 12:54 to be exact.
California National Guardsman Sgt. Robert G. Duggan, of the 132nd MRBC out of Redding, California, who was part of the build crew, said the mixed-component team was firing on all cylinders despite being the first time working together.
“From day one meeting, we all just clicked,” Duggan said. “There was a lot of knowledge spread back and forth. This was the first time I did a complete enclosure. It was smooth.”
The Courage Crossing 22 exercise, formerly known as Yakima Strike, provided a unique environment to train, develop, and sustain MRBC Soldiers’ technical skills at the platoon, crew, squad, and team-level as well as enhanced partnerships with all components and joint partners.
“We killed it,” said Spc. Chile S. Ferguson, bridge crewmember with the 671st MRCB. “Last year in Yakima I was taught everything I know. This year was definitely different since I got to take charge and teach the privates what they need to know to continue to pass it down.”
Cpl. Kyle Wells, squad leader and raft commander, agreed, adding that the leadership role changed the way he saw the mission. “There was a learning curve, but I really got to step into that roll and control my own raft, including the range of responsibilities that come with that. We spanned the entire gap across the lake, which is something we haven’t done in a while, and it was really an awesome thing to see.”
The wet gap crossing was the culminating event of the extended combat training, however various infantry, divers, combat engineers, chemical specialists and weapons firers added to the overall exercise.
“Both sides benefited and learned from each other,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Tariek Leith, Supporting Arms Liaison Team chief with the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve’s Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company out of JBLM. “This was a great opportunity for Marines to learn how to increase our speed and lethality while integrating fires with a joint force.”
To ensure all involved were safe, divers were on hand for safety during the wet gap crossing. The scope of the work involved the science behind hydrographic surveying – an essential skill of civil engineering that determines the physical features of the underwater area that ensures the depth is appropriate for training.
“Divers are the first ones in and the last ones out,” said 2nd Lt. Adriel Moran, dive executive officer with the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment. “We provide safety support both on the surface and underwater with drowning, so personnel and equipment recovery. Thankfully nothing happened, but we were there just in case.”
Further, Courage Crossing 22 also provided the battalion staff the opportunity to train on planning gap crossing operations and conducting mission command of both offense and defense operations in a tactical environment.
“We have seen how other entities do this wrong,” said Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Guy “Gus” Thornton. “This event was an opportunity to show ourselves, show our nation and show the world how to do it right – and that’s exactly what we did!”
With training complete, these warriors are ready to take on the battlefield.