Staring out into darkness, Spc. Hoang Tran could hardly wait to get started. Wet from an early morning storm, a little bit cold and with mud caking his Army combat boots, he eagerly directed each Heavy expanded mobility Tactical truck toward the shoreline in the early morning hours of July 24.
Just as fast as the Arkansas sun started to rise through the clouds, Soldiers all around him began moving vehicles, preparing Army engineer boats and dropping large, Army green bridge sections into the river.
“This is what I came here to do,” said Tran, 671st Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge). “A little rain won’t do anything but motivate us to get the mission accomplished even faster.”
What began as only an idea and a goal, became a reality as engineers from the 459th Engineer Company (MRB), 671st Engineer Company (MRB), and 74th Engineer Company (MRB) came together with the assistance of medics, military police, dive specialists and support personnel, to build an improved ribbon bridge across the river.
Each engineer unit took care of unloading a quarter of the bridging section, with the final section coming from Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
When the last of the 44 bridge sections hit the water, Soldiers high-fived and praised each other as if they had just won a sporting event.
“Heck of a job guys!” said Tran. “We were on a tight schedule, but we got it done faster then we expected.”
Standing in the background, Lt. Col. Keith Krajewski, 389th Engineer Battalion crossing area commander said he could not help but be proud of what his Soldiers had accomplished.
“These guys deserve to be happy and should be proud of what they just did,” said Krajewski. “They’ve been out here training and rehearsing for over a week now. This is like their Super Bowl. I can’t stress how well they did.”
Over the past week and a half, the nearly 800 Soldiers participating in Operation River Assault trained vigorously in preparation for the bridge crossing. The engineers tested and familiarized themselves with their boats and vehicles, while brushing up on their Soldier skills such as land navigation, marksmanship and demolition.
This often made for long days in the field and made it crucial for them to capitalize on the limited training time they received on the bridging elements.
“We’ve been very busy from the moment we stepped onto the ground at Fort Chaffee (Ark.),” said Spc. Israel Sanchez, a bridge team member with the 671st Engineer Company (MRB) “We’ve practiced for every scenario. From pulling security and getting up early, to building a raft. Everything we did here went into the final mission today.”
Under the careful watch of the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment, 30th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Bragg, acting as a safety and support element, along with security personnel and Army medics, the engineers were able to put all their training to use and complete the water bridge in about three hours.
The bridge was then used to transport security elements and soldiers to the opposite side of the river.
“This is a great opportunity to do engineer training,” said Maj. General William Buckler, commanding general, 412th Theater Engineer Command.
“This is part of the Army Reserve training strategy and is one of the building blocks of the progressive readiness model that we use to ensure our units are ready to deploy at any time.”