62nd Gets Wake Up
Rise and Shine, we're headed to Greenland?
Staff Sgt. Doug Sample
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office
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
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
"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
"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
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.