62nd Gets Wake Up Call 

9/28/01

 

 

Rise and Shine, we're headed to Greenland?

Staff Sgt. Doug Sample
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

No way!

That was the disbelief soldiers of the 74th Bridge Building Company expressed when they were awakened by a knock at their barracks doors early Sunday morning.

"We're going where? I thought it was joke, nobody believed it," Pfc. Danjumall Roberts said, as he waited to board a flight that will drop him off just south of the North Pole. "I'm thinking- what on earth are we doing in Greenland? This is crazy."

Soldiers from the 62nd Engineer Battalion, 13th Corps Support Command got the 'crazy' alert call on the morning of August 4 to begin preparation for a deployment to Thule, Air Force Base on a mission to support the 12th Space Warning Squadron.

Excessive rain from the summer storm season wiped out roads and resulted in the loss of the main bridge to the installation's north fuel storage-tank farm. Access to the installation's fuel reserves is critical to support the air base, Canadian Forces Station Alert and Station Nord's abilities to operate during the winter said Col. Craig Whitehead, Thule Air Base Commander.

"Thule AB and its personnel have faced numerous challenges during the short summer season," said Whitehead. "The worst flood in 10 years wiped out roads and bridges and threatened the water and fuel supplies," he said.

Getting a replacement bridge in place became a critical factor since August is Thule's busiest month.

Due to the severe arctic climate, Thule's port is only open in July and August. Already several air and sea resupply missions were schedule to take place and two tankers were set to arrive on Aug 11.

A temporary bridge was needed quickly and 62nd was given short notice. One of the unit's Medium Girder Bridges (MGB) would need to be installed right away.

Prepare for Liftoff
As early as the following day, Aug. 5, Air Force C-17s from the 15th Air Squadron, Charleston, S.C. began arriving at Fort Hood's Gray Army Airfield to be loaded with equipment in preparation for the deployment. Already in route, an advance party of three soldiers left Fort Hood August 5, at 10:30 a.m. to do a site recon and determine the placement of the bridge and to see if the embankments will hold the 50,000-pound structure.

In all, 48 soldiers, who were issued special cold-weather gear, gloves and parkas before departing, were readied for deployment, traveling in stages and accompanying parts of the bridge. The entire bridge structure could not fit onto one C-17 and had to be transported on six separate flights, along with six trucks, two wreckers, and other equipment.

"This is the first time our soldiers have deployed to Greenland and to my knowledge, this is the first time this bridge has ever been deployed by air," said Lt. Col. Paul Cunningham, 62nd Engineer Battalion commander. "So this mission is full of firsts and I'm proud that the 62nd is a part of it."

Another first for the unit: For many of the young soldiers it would be their first real-world mission. But Sgt. Kenneth Yount, a bridge crewman, said that there was no shortage of volunteers for the mission.

"I know it sounds crazy, but the soldiers were really excited about this mission, like myself everyone wanted to go," Yont said. "Most soldiers who came in the Army say they did it because they wanted to travel. We'll here's the chance to go somewhere most people have never been before."

Essayons-- "We will try!"
It's a 14-hour flight to Thule AB, a tiny facility with minimal accommodations. Located 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 950 miles south of the North Pole, August temperature range from a balmy day at 55 degrees to an inch of snow falling, with most days in the lower 40s. The cool, wet weather is a huge contrast from the 100-degree weather of Ft. Hood.

In Greenland, the summer sun never sets which allowed for bridge building operations to take place any hour, 24 hours of the day.

However, once all equipment was on the ground, the 74th needed less than seven hours to complete the project said Staff Sgt. Kevin Gilley, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the build project.

"Once we get everything in place, the building part is real easy," said Gilley. Part of Gilley's job is to calculate the correct placement of the bridge's metal rollers that will assist the soldiers in physically pushing the structure across the gap.

According to Platoon Leader, 2nd Lt. Kari Hadley, the actual build starts with the construction of the far shore end of bridge. The next critical step is to begin the nose construction, which is needed to correctly land the bridge on the far shore.

Then begins the bay construction. The number of bays needed depends on the distance. As bays are constructed the bridge is slowly pushed farther across the gap.

After the last bay is constructed and the bridge is pushed all the way across the gap, a crane is then used to lift the near shore end of bridge while the rollers are removed. The only part that remains is to emplace both the decking and curbing on the bridge.

"What a sight it was to see the first vehicle cross the bridge," Hadley said, after which her soldiers worked to improve the site by anchoring the bridge and posting speed and weight limit signs.

"It was a relief to have the bridge in; and it all occurred in just one short week. The completion of our mission ensured the success of the tanker operations and guaranteed the survival of the Air Base and the surrounding areas.

"Our mission not only provided the critical support needed, but also enhanced the relationship between the United States Army and the United States Air Force. "

Let's get Crazy
With the bridge in place and mission accomplished, the platoon used its 'down time' to tour part of the base's operations, conduct additional training on bridge construction and to take a dip in the frigid waters that surround the air base.

"The water is cold," Sgt. 1st Class Thomas York said. "You'd have to be crazy to get in there."

However, the word 'crazy' seems to sum up this entire mission for the 74th. From packing up and deploying on a day's notice with a bridge that's never been airlifted, to landing in a country where it stays daylight all summer, the 74th has been through a dizzying two weeks.

At an awards ceremony, Whitehead passed out certificates of appreciation and expressed the Air Force's appreciation for the support of the 62nd.

"Thule is grateful for the support received from the 62nd Engineer Battalion . . ." Whitehead said. "We received a rare opportunity to work alongside the Army's finest in preserving the operational capability of the United States Armed Forces," he added.

Because the MGB is not designed to survive the harsh winters of Greenland, where temperatures are well below zero, the unit will conduct a return mission in the coming weeks to remove, palletize and load the bridge for its return trip to Fort Hood.

Although bringing the bridge back means another deployment to Greenland, the unit is prepared and ready. Retrieving the bridge is one mission that won't catch the 74th sleeping.

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