By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
The 502nd Multi Role Bridge Company lived up to its name last week with an assault river crossing exercise that included a zodiac assault mission, air assault sling loads and construction of a seven float improved ribbon bridge raft.
The exercise was conducted at Pilcher’s Landing, where Fort Knox abuts the busy Ohio River, explained Capt. Arthur Athens, the 502nd company commander. The first order of business was to secure the far shore from hostile (or enemy) forces that controlled the exit bank objective that must be secure in order to emplace the bridge. Since the Army can’t close the river to traffic, the “far side” was actually a site further down river, but still on the installation training area rather than on the opposite river bank which would be Indiana. Working around the barges that ply the waterways, the assault team loaded onto small rubber rafts—called Zodiacs—that carried them downstream. They disembarked for the foray into the “enemy” territory, where the opposition forces had been waiting since the early morning, according to Athens.
Spc. Alexander Dreher was on the assault team; he’s been assigned to the 502nd for about six months and came to Fort Knox from a sapper unit, where assault training was a fairly common drill.
“We split up into two groups; one engaged the opfor frontally and the other flanked them,” he said. “We took a few ‘casualties,’ but we secured the area.”
The noncommissioned officer in charge of the bridge build, Sgt. Klysta Moore, explained in a real combat situation, the assault team’s job is critical; they provide the safety to allow the other Soldiers to build the bridge, which is essentially a very large raft.
Moore said the training—while more of a “sustainment” exercise for many—was a first for many
of the junior Soldiers who haven’t been with the 19th long.
Once both “shores” are secure, the bridge building can begin, she said.
This exercise called for the bridge components—called improved ribbon bays and ramps—to be sling loaded and transported to the river site by Chinook helicopters. The incoming helicopters were guided by a Soldier stationed on a bridge erection boat. Using hand signals, VS-17 panels and SINGAR radios, the Soldier indicated when the chopper crew should drop the load and the bays plunked down in the river.
Soldiers on the bridge team were ferried on a bridge erection boat to retrieve the bay bobbing in the water. Once the sling was removed the bay sprang open transforming from its compact travel shape—similar to a large letter W—to a flat floating raft. The bridge team scrambled from their boat to the bay to secure fittings then the bridge erection boats pushed the bays into position.
The exercise was repeated numerous times, retrieving bays, pushing them into position where they were securely linked until the seven bays formed a floating bridge raft, or Improved Ribbon Bridge in military parlance.
“The overall training was incredibly valuable for the 502nd and the battalion as a whole,” said Lt. Col. John Lloyd, commander of the 19th Engineer Battalion. “At the battalion level, it trained my staff to conduct mission command during an assault river crossing. River crossing and specifically rafting operations are inherently dangerous missions, but when you add the complexity of sling loading in the boats and bays, it certainly increases.
“I think training on this (Mission Essential Task List) is crucial, not only for the 19th, but it also provides the 18th Airborne Corps (the parent unit of the 20th Engineer Brigade, to which the 19th belongs) and the Army a critical capability. We must be able to assist the follow-on forces to an initial forced entry operation the ability to cross both wet and dry gaps to expand the lodgment and allow those follow-on forces to maneuver against an enemy force,” he added.