March 15, 2016 –
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. – The river flowed slowly by as Soldiers from the 368th Engineer Battalion began their assessment of the 60-year-old double Bailey bridge at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, which has a rich history being featured in films including “We Were Soldiers,” during the Combat Support Training Exercise 78-16-01, Feb. 27 to March 18 to determine if the bridge could be saved.
The bridge sits in disrepair. While the bridge itself is structurally stable, the concrete supports are crumbling, the wooden decking is rotting and the metal structure is showing signs of surface rust.
“The bridge is cool. You don’t see a lot of Army bridges anymore and see what they’re capable of from an engineering perspective,” said Capt. Michael Majors, construction management lead, 368th Engineer Battalion. “That’s really cool to see especially for how long it’s been there – 60 years and it’s still rock solid as far as structurally.”
The bridge is not there just for looks as it provides the only access to another training area on Fort Hunter Liggett.
“It cuts off a large training area on Fort Hunter Liggett by not having that bridge passable,” said Majors, a Denver resident. “The Palisade Bridge is kind of condemned, chained off, the decking is rotting through in many places, it’s torqued and a little messed up, plus both headwalls are collapsing and falling into the river.”
The 368th Eng. Bn. trained at Fort Hunter Liggett for the Combat Support Training Exercise. Nearly 40 units from the U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Air Force and Canadian Armed Forces trained at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Fort Hunter Liggett, California, as part of the 84th Training Command's CSTX 78-16-01. This exercise marks the first CSTX of 2016 and is hosted by the 78th Training Division.
One of the 368th’s tasks was to survey the Bailey bridge and the surrounding road.
The construction management team as well as the 650th Survey and Design Team, surveyed the area, created drawings showing the existing conditions and dimensions and also calculated the military load classifications.
Bridge classifications are an important part of engineer operations.
“Route classifications and bridge classification are primary engineer tasks that support maneuver elements,” said Majors. “There could be a situation where we need to move equipment from point A to point B and there could be bridges on the way. Our equipment can weigh 1,500 tons when it’s on the back of a truck. Can you get over? If the bridge is only rated 50 tons and you drive 100 tons over it and if it fails, it’s a bad day.”
The four teams of lieutenants went to the site March 10 to conduct their own survey operations.
“It’s one of those perishable skills that unless you train on it, it will take some time getting used to the equipment, then trying to remember – the last time I had to do this was (Basic Officer Leaders Course). I graduated BOLC in August of 2011,” said 1st Lt. Jared Peledge, operations plans officer, 368th Engineer Battalion. “It’s been a while, but this is what we do. I’m looking forward to it.”
Peledge was at a slight disadvantage as his team was himself and the Military Police officer while the other teams were comprised of three to four engineer lieutenants.
The development exercise was meant to be enjoyable, but also designed as a competition.
Majors said they enjoyed the opportunity to get out, work around and play in the dirt, crawl over a bridge, take measurements.
“It gets you away from the tedium of paperwork that officers are always stuck in and it gets you to work as a team,” said Majors.
Competition is in Peledge’s nature so he prepared his team.
“That was the whole design … It’s a healthy competition,” said Peledge, from Wakefield, Massachusetts. “I don’t like to lose in general so we’ve been kind of war-gaming, but it will be a good time.”
It paid off as Peledge and his teammate, 1st Lt. Andrew Abbott, won the competition and bragging rights among the lieutenants.
Majors believes this mission will be a great thing for the post, the installation, the Soldiers and missions to come.
“You get to go do a real engineer missions that will have impact on troops and their training ability so you get a sense of accomplishment and you get to say, ‘Hey, I’m part of this,’” said Majors.
The survey and design aspect is only the first step. The bridge will not need to be replaced due to still being structurally sound. During future extended combat trainings a bridge company will remove the bridge and store it while a horizontal construction company will pour new headwalls and repair the roads. After the concrete for the new headwalls is cured, the bridge will be placed. Some of the wood will need to be replaced on the bridge and surface rust removed, but the bridge and its history will remain intact.