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NEWS | April 18, 2023

Castle Upgrade: Excellence through hands-on work

By Maj. William Allred 412th Theater Engineer Command

“Great to see Soldiers get in there and make a tangible difference,” wrote Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command, via social media. “(Castle Upgrade) is a fantastic project, and I’m excited to see the results. Keep up the great work.”

The 390th Engineer Vertical Construction Company (EVCC), under the 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) 844th Engineer Battalion, boosted their hands-on skills by improving Vicksburg’s Brig. Gen. George A. Morris Army Reserve Center (MARC) via five high-impact engineering projects during Operation Castle Upgrade from March 6-17.

It is not every battle assembly that Army Reserve engineers get to perform their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) – carpentry, heavy machinery operations, paving, and the like – versus standard Army Soldier tasks – Army Combat Fitness Tests, range operations, staff exercises, and the like. To remedy this, the 412th TEC created Operation Castle Upgrade centered around engineer Soldiers performing their jobs to improve the organization.

Castle Upgrade initially consisted of four tasks for the 55-member Army Reserve Engineer team – interior walls, the entry foyer, parking entrance, and a gazebo. While the team was at the MARC, they discovered a water pipe leaking countless gallons of water, creating a fifth task. The 390th EVCC divided into teams that work concurrently, finishing all five projects within nine days.

The 412th TEC Commanding General Brig. Gen. Todd Lazaroski said that Castle Upgrade showed the “awesome work” Army Reserve Engineers can accomplish while honing their skills.

“This is why we are here as leaders,” said Lazaroski. “To ensure our Engineers get the proper training they need to do their jobs.”

Interior walls

No one currently working at the MARC (an over 30-year-old building) readily remembers when the last time the walls had been touched up, much less painted. At an estimated 92,000 square-foot, the walls’ pale and rough condition showed years of use in need of repair and revitalization.

1st Lt. Sara Decker, 390th EVCC Executive Officer, led all teams in these projects. She said that the painting did not bother her Soldiers. The 390th EVCC took to the project with dedication and proper motivation, even though they are not painters.

“Part of being an Engineer is being able to learn new things – adapt and overcome,” said Decker. “Since we had other projects that allowed our Soldiers to develop their MOS-related skills, we considered painting just ‘part of the job.’”

Within eight days, the designated Soldier team stripped, patched, sanded, and repainted the MARC’s massive amount of wall space with primer and two coats of paint, leaving a renewed look.

Entry foyer

The foyer area that every visitor would immediately see as they entered the 412th TEC headquarters bore off-white wallpaper. Time, sunlight, and use left the space due for a thorough cleaning, repair, and fresh coat of paint, instead of new wallpaper.

Like the painting, this project did not fall into the normal arena of Army professions. However, the 390th EVCC Soldiers went about the wallpaper removal, glue (from the wallpaper) elimination, repairing all acquired holes, and then, priming and painting for a revitalized look.

“The drywall was a major concern,” said Decker. “Removing wallpaper can damage the drywall significantly. Our test strips from our leader’s recon came off smoothly, but we were worried that other parts would be more difficult and cause delay in the project.”

To minimize any possible damage, Decker said that she sought expertise from her Soldiers who held helpful civilian occupations.

“We brought two Soldiers from a sister company who drywall professionally with us (to Vicksburg) to ensure quality work,” said Decker. “They performed (quality assurance/quality compliance) and did the more difficult spots.”

In total, the foyer project took all of Castle Upgrade’s nine days, approximately 960 manhours, given the area’s challenging architectural angles and spaces. Mark Gaworski, 412th TEC facility coordinator, said that other alternate means to refresh the area could have taken five-to-seven days longer and the 390th EVCC performed effectively.

“The planning, negotiating and scheduling method for a project like this would easily delay the entire process,” said Gaworski. “From start to finish, Castle Upgrade took about six months versus a year or more seeking outside help.”

Parking Entrance

Potholes and slanted asphalt riddled the MARC parking lot’s T-intersection entrance for years. As with anywhere else, potholes can damage and disrupt any vehicle driving over them, not to forget how unsightly they are. The 390th EVCC brought paving specialists from the 702nd Engineer Company to oversee this task.

The 390th’s paving team, joined by 702nd members, cut up the entrance area’s asphalt, removed all old material, graded the ground appropriately for use and water drainage, surveyed all steps for accuracy, then repaved the area with concrete for longevity.

Gaworski said that the team used concrete as a stronger material given the amount of traffic at the parking entrance and praised the resulting slab.

“The amount of expertise showed by the Soldiers was great,” said Gaworski. “They pulled skills from their civilian careers into their military occupations, allowing a better overall product.”


Outdoor elements, including weather, insects, wind, and sun, cause significant degradation to a structure. The MARC gazebo showed the ravages of an outside building with warped planks, nails rusting, and signs of rot – not good.

Gaworski stated that the 81st Readiness Division authorized the funding that allowed the 412th TEC leaders to plan a replacement, made by the hands of their Engineer Soldiers. 390th EVCC accepted the project as part of Castle Upgrade and delivered more than expected.

According to Decker, Sgt. 1st Class Raymond McIntyre, 390th EVCC Carpenter, shared his professional vision on how the gazebo would turn out, then led the assisting Soldiers in creating it.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey M. Jones, 844th Engineer Battalion Commander, enjoyed the opportunity for his carpenters to display their skill, not just functionality.

“I love to showcase the fact that our carpenters are actually craftsmen,” said Jones. “The quality of work on the gazebo is proof of this, placing the craftsmanship of our citizen Soldier carpenters front and center.”

Overall, the 390th team tore down, cleared the debris, and constructed a new, improved gazebo using an estimated $3,500 within a week where other sources may charge three times that amount, according to Gaworski.

“The 412th TEC General Engineer Officer section developed amazing blueprints for the new design,” said Gaworski. “They spent time and effort on a design that looks as good as it functions. They added workmanship and pride versus just getting the job done.”

Water pipe leak

The 412th TEC noted a small leak in the form of “saturated earth” at the rear of the MARC around October 2021 and the situation was pending action at the time of Castle Upgrade, according to Gaworski. However, Staff Sgt. Sydney Parks, 844th Engineer Battalion Survey Engineer, discovered the leak was much worse during a review of the MARC’s back portion for a potential paving project. After 81st Readiness Division authorized exploratory digging, the 390th Engineers excavated, finding a defective pipe seal that erupted into much worse.

Decker determined that they could not perform any construction in the area until the pipe was fixed.

“When we got back there, we saw the plumbing job was poorly done,” said Decker. “The pipe was not even glued correctly.”

Jones said that identifying the major leak in the water supply line was part of the work and the result saved the Army Reserve future costs.

“This alone saved thousands of dollars a year (potentially), while conserving an important natural resource,” said Jones.

Gaworski recalled the leak creating a large geyser once exposed, sending water rushing across the back of the MARC. The expertise of Army Reserve engineers proved ready to resolve the issue in a timely manner.

“The 390th had plumbers on the civilian end,” said Gaworski. “They were up to their elbows in mud and diagnosed the leak flawlessly. I feel confident in the work they did.”

Replacing and properly resealing the pipe took the Soldiers about three days from the time it was revealed and included ordering the parts needed.


Decker said that all Soldiers performed incredibly well regardless of task or challenge.

“We are proud of our work,” said Decker. “And so are Brig. Gen. Lazaroski, the 81st Readiness Division, and the (Chief of Army Reserve) herself, so I'd say it was a great mission.”

Jones said that users and end-clients were pleased with Castle Upgrade’s quality and work quantity.

“Flexing (Soldiers’) abilities and maximizing civilian-acquired skills is why the (U.S. Army Reserve) Engineer Corps is such a valuable asset to the Engineer Regiment,” said Jones. “When adding the occupational training value, the cost/benefit for this event was off the charts. There is virtually no limit to the type of work our teams could do.”

The 702nd Engineer Company, 443rd Engineer Facilities Detachment, and 373rd Engineer Utilities Detachment also assisted with specialized Soldiers to guarantee mission success.

The 412th TEC Commanding General and TEC Soldiers look forward to future construction events that benefit U.S. Army Reserve Engineers in maintaining their skill sets and building morale. For more on Castle Upgrade and its results, visit the official 412th Theater Engineer Command Facebook page.