VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 576th Engineer Utilities Detachment, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group trained on their engineer skills, as well as their individual and detachment-level Soldier skills, Feb. 3-19, 2022, in preparation for their upcoming overseas federal mobilization this spring.
The 576th, which provides facilities engineering support in the areas of carpentry, masonry, electrical, plumbing and road maintenance and repair, conducted the training both at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach and at Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center.
“We’re tiny but mighty,” said Capt. Shane McNamara, the detachment commander. “Everyone is doing an outstanding job. I have not seen a better group of enlisted Soldiers in one location.”
The unit includes a headquarters section, an operations section, three identical utility sections and an engineer equipment section.
“They are our earth shapers,” McNamara explained. “They set and prep the site for the vertical engineers.”
Each utility section is led by an E-6 and contains all of the vertical MOSs.
The first week was spent at SMR, exercising their Mission Essential Tasks. Observer controllers from First Army were on hand to validate the Soldiers and the unit on their engineer tasks.
The unit then traveled to Fort Pickett to conduct weapons qualification before returning to SMR to conduct administrative tasks and any other necessary pre-deployment requirements.
Due to the small size of the unit and the nature of the mission they will have overseas, cross training on various engineering skills was a focus of the training.
“We will be replacing another engineering utilities detachment in theater and when I spoke to the commander, he identified that some skills were in higher demand than others,” McNamara explained. “So cross training is very important. There are subject matter experts in all the vertical disciplines and each utilities section. They all need to know each others’ jobs. This premobilization AT is an opportunity to exercise those skills.”
As part of their training and evaluation by First Army observer controllers, the Soldiers of the 576th conducted a survey and then poured a concrete pad in the surveyed location.
“Then we constructed a wooden frame that could conceivably go on top of that pad and we roughed in electrical,” McNamara said. “Then we will rough in plumbing. So we are practicing all those engineering vertical skills.”
“At drill we don’t get to do big projects like this because we don’t have the time,” Pvt. 2 Wyatt Bingham said. “So training like this is great.”
“A lot of times in the National Guard you go to drill and really want to do the job you signed up to do but you just don’t have time,” explained Spc. Lewis Dawson, a plumber from Reedville, Virginia. “This week I didn’t get to do plumbing but I got to do something engineering and learned something to expand my skillset.
It will be the first overseas mobilization for the 576th, which was stood up in 2017. The unit moved from Onancock to Virginia Beach in 2019. Then COVID-19 wreaked havoc with drill and annual training schedules.
“This is the most time I’ve ever spent with the unit continuously,” McNamara said. “For 25-35% of the unit this is their first drill with the unit.”
As a result, getting to know each other and building a team was vital to the annual training.
“Sleeping next to each other, getting to know each other, being close and working alongside each other, you end up learning a lot about the people you’re with,” said Dawson, who recently transferred to the unit from the 180th Engineer Support Company in Powhatan. “We did that concrete project and it was great we came together as a team. That’s something that was pointed out by some of the higher ups- not everyone works so cohesively.”
Bingham has only been in the Army for a year but he is already one of the veterans of the unit. His squad is very different from when he first came to the unit and he said all of the old and new Soldiers are working well together.
“In the civilian world, people get frustrated if someone doesn’t understand something or if people don’t do it the same way,” he explained. “It was awesome to come here and see everyone work amazing together.”
Spc. Dustin Cullop’s biggest worry was coming in to the unit and not knowing people. The Bristol, Tennessee, resident was previously assigned to the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Support Company. But several fellow Soldiers transferred to the unit with him which helped make the transition smoother.
“I was kind of nervous but we came together and this has been awesome honestly,” the electrician said. “Everyone has been able to readjust and everyone is coming closer together.”
Now that the unit has come together as a team over two weeks, the Soldiers are looking forward to the opportunity to use and expand their engineer skills.
Dawson explained he chose his MOS because he wanted a job that could train him on something he could transfer into the civilian world.
“The Army could train me to be a plumber and then I could go out in the civilian world and become a master plumber,” he said.
Now he’s looking forward to the deployment where he can put those skills to use and gain more experience.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go build up a Forward Operating Base and contribute to the mission there.”
Cullop, an electrician who does construction work in his civilian career, joined the National Guard for the benefits, the travel opportunities and to gain experience. As a result, he’s looking forward to the deployment so he can return to his civilian career with even more experience.
“I’m already learning other skills. We learned about concrete and carpenters showed us how to build a frame and put in rafters,” he said. “We have great instructors and noncommissioned officers.”
A plumber in the civilian world, Bingham said he joined the National Guard to get a trade he could use on the outside.
“As soon as I got out of AIT, a company hired me to be a plumber,” Bingham explained.
But he is excited to take a break from his civilian career to gain more knowledge and experience on the deployment.
“It’s exciting because such a small percentage of people join the military,” said Bingham, who said he has already experienced so much just in basic and AIT compared to his friends. “It’s going to be a whole lot more once we experience going overseas and doing a mission in another country."