By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
The 502nd Multi-Role Bridge Company, part of the 19th Engineer Battalion at Fort Knox, recently conducted a unique training exercise. One that can only be done on Fort Knox.
Thanks to some topographical blessings, Fort Knox is home to the Salt River, which leaves the Ohio River at nearby West Point, then winds its way across the north-ern portion of the installation and travels on toward eastern Kentucky. This route means the portion of the river within the post’s boundaries are Fort Knox territory and thus access can be restricted so there are no worries about people straying into live fire.
“This is the only place in the world, I think, where we can do live fire from a boat,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Haus, a Marine stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C., who was at Knox to participate in joint training with the 502nd.
One of only five such companies in the Army, the 502nd conducted a live fire exercise last week on the river. The scenario called for the unit to take direct and indirect fire and suppress that threat, all while continuing to span the river with its unique bridging capabilities. Those tasks are all “real life” skills that might be needed in any number of combat situations.
According to Capt. Arthur Athens, 502nd company com-mander, the 21 Marines were training along with the 502nd at the invitation of the battalion commander.
“Lt. Col. (John) Lloyd met leadership from the (Marine) 8th Engineer Support Battalion during (the 19th Battalion’s emergency deployment to assist victims of) Hurricane Sandy and invited them to join us for the Boat Live Fire exercise we had planned and resourced,” Athens explained.
“It’s a great training opportunity,” Athens added. “We learn something from them and they learn something from us.”
The patrol function is accomplished by a five-man crew consisting of an operator, a boat commander, two side gunners and one Soldier in the rear who mans an M240B machine gun mounted on a swivel capable of an 180 degree arc, so he can fire at either bank of the river. The bridge erection boat can achieve speeds of 24 knots, which is about 27 mph.
While the Soldiers seemed to enjoy the chance to fire their weapons in a different setting, it was also a challenge to be accurate.
“Shooting from a moving platform is totally different from any other type of firing,” said boat commander Staff Sgt. DeAngelo Stevenson. He explained that it was difficult to compensate for the speed of the boat while taking aim at targets that might or might not be stationary. “With a little practice, though, (the crew) will be fine,” he added.
Stevenson added that his previous combat deployment was with a sapper unit, but he has experienced riverine training and he recognized the exercise’s value.
“This is very realistic training,” the NCO said. “It’s good cross training, too, because we can go from bridge building to boat patrolling in a matter of minutes.”
He said the bridge erection and the river patrolling are both accomplished from the same platform—the riverine boats and under different conditions, such as darkness.
Spc. Marcus Worley, at the opposite end of the experience spectrum, said this was his first exposure to riverine operations even though he has been assigned to the 19th Engineers for nearly his entire three-year career. His time with the battalion has been his only Army assignment.
“This training was awesome,” Worley said. “In the two days of live fire, I probably fired about 300 rounds.”
Before the exercise began, Worley said the unit had spent a week in classes and walking through the steps of the training.
“We were well prepared; we knew what to expect,” he said.
What he didn’t expect was how meaningful the training would be.
“I was planning to get out of the Army at the end of this (tour of duty),” said the young Soldier. “But this training reminded me how much I love my job; I’ve decided to stay in the military.”