Engineers tearing up roads

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Skills honed to proficiency through practice

Gold Standard Acting Editor
Drivers who use the roads behind the commissary or Exchange through the old warehouse district to reach Spearhead Division Avenue may have noticed a good bit of activity over the past several months. Some buildings were demolished and heavy construction equipment has been creating large piles of debris.
The old roads in that district are being torn out at the request of Fort Knox’s Directorate of Public Works, the folks who are responsible for maintaining the roads. The work is being done by the 19th Engineer Battalion’s 15th Engineer Company, 2nd platoon.
According to 1st Lt. Lindsay Perez, the officer in charge, the project was a welcome one.
“We were glad to take on the task because it provides real-world training to Soldiers who may not have had much “hands on” time with the heavy earth-moving equipment,” said Perez.
In her platoon of 35 Soldiers, Perez said nine of them are on their first duty assignment, fresh out of Advanced Individual Training.
“This provides awesome training,” Perez added.
Pfc. Bryan Whitten was one of those new troops. Like others, he was able to log roughly 200 additional hours of “stick time” at the controls of the heavy construction machines.
“I think the hardest skill to master was the bulldozer,” Whitten said. “You can’t see what you’re doing over the blade; you have to learn to feel it.”
“Proficiency only comes with practice and this project gave us lots of practice,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Steese, the project noncommissioned officer in charge.
The roads being torn out were originally laid to sustain heavy traffic—heavy—as in tank heavy. Steese said the roads were comprised of 12 inches of concrete overlaid with asphalt. A Hyex was used to peel the pavement off, then dozers were used to bust the concrete into manageable chunks. The debris was then sorted into two piles, one for asphalt material, one for concrete. Of course, soil clung to many of the pieces, so the concrete was cleaned as much as possible before transport to the installation’s landfill.
With fastidious separation of the asphalt and concrete, the landfill becomes a depository for clean, crushed aggregate that can be used in other projects, such as the foundation work being done on the Engineer complex, currently under construction.
“The most tedious work we did was sifting through the piles to separate the material,” said Whitten.
Like any other construction job, the pavement demolition depended on favorable weather. Unfortunately, this project suffered setbacks due to the rainy winter weather. However, true to the NCOs mantra “If it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t training,” the 19th Engineers found a way to use the setbacks to their advantage.
“My guys learned a lot about drainage,” Perez explained. “We can’t have standing water at the job site, so we had to learn more about digging drainage ditches and figuring out which way those should go.”
In addition to drainage, the crew learned another skill that might be required in an operational setting.
“We got a lot of practice removing equipment from the mud when it got stuck,” Whitten said.
Real world skill is the biggest payoff for the engineers. By exercising skills in garrison, Perez said the learning curve is reduced compared to trying to acquire the skills in an operational setting where security is an issue. Steese added that many issues are easier to fix at your headquarters rather than 1,000 miles away, such as the 19th Engineers experienced in their recent deployment to New York to assist in Hurricane Sandy cleanup operations.
To exact every ounce of benefit from the exercise, Perez said the Soldiers worked in full “battle rattle” once a week in order to see exactly what changes might be required to operate the equipment once the unit is down range.
“We also worked in our (Chemical, Biologic, Radiologic, Nuclear) gear,” she said, “and we’re planning a reverse work cycle, working at night with various stages of lighting and working with just night vision goggles.”
With depth perception reduced through NVGs, Steese said you have to experience it.
“Your other senses are amplified when you’re wearing NVGs; you learn to feel through the controls,” he said. “It’s like a blind person trying to operate a bulldozer, but it’s a huge benefit for downrange missions.”
So far, the 15th Engineer Company has removed 187 cubic yards of soil and 22,500 square feet of pavement. The project is slated to finish by late March. Upon completion, the only usable roads left in the district will be Quartermaster and Warehouse Streets.