FORT PICKETT, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group supported Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center with road and facility maintenance during their annual training August 4-20, 2022, at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
The engineers performed a variety of weapons qualification ranges, in addition to tactical training, during the two-week event, but the main focus of the training was the construction projects.
“It was great to see the Soldiers running their equipment and honing the skills they learned in their Advance Individual Training,” said Lt. Col. Joseph M. Fleishman, commander of the 276th. “From heavy equipment operators to carpenters to demolitions specialists, our Soldiers were able to exercise skill sets that they can’t train on during a weekend at the armory.”
The majority of construction involved repairing and finishing improved surfaces using military engineer equipment. Heavy equipment operators used road graders, loaders and dozers to scrape and move materials in an effort to fill ruts and holes, and smooth uneven surfaces. Hundreds of military vehicles use these road networks and motor pools, explained Fleishman.
“Fort Pickett is a tremendous resource for the joint force and being able to combine Soldier training with post improvement projects is a win-win for Virginia and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines that train here.”
Most of the road and motor pool projects required laying new gravel. Fortunately, the Blackstone-based 157th Engineer Platoon was available. The 157th is a quarry unit, one of four in the Army National Guard and only six in the U.S. Army, and is comprised of a variety of heavy equipment operators and quarrying specialists.
“We were able to produce tons of aggregate that was used for multiple projects including road, parking lot and trail improvements,” said 1st Lt. Michael D. Deighan, platoon leader. “We were able to strengthen our unit’s relationship with Fort Pickett, enabling continued access to key training resources. Thanks to the Fort Pickett’s [Directorate of Public Works] resources, our Soldiers were able to train for several hours a day on a functioning quarry plant with an adequate site layout and enough raw materials to train skills that have had limited training in the past two years.”
The new aggregate was put immediately to use by the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Support Company. The 180th is designed to support a variety of general engineering and construction projects in a tactical environment.
“We trained the gamut of engineer and Soldier tasks during a hot August annual training at Fort Pickett,” said Capt. Paul Latimer, company commander. “Soldiers started the first of two weeks with the new Army Combat Fitness Test followed by their first individual and crew-served weapons qualification in, in some cases, almost two years. Although a bit of a shock for many, they adapted and overcame, honing their individual lethality and achieving impressive qualification numbers. The second week, Soldiers transitioned to engineer operations, grading and repairing over 2,000 meters of unimproved roads and trails at Fort Pickett, and grading and improving about 1.5 million square feet of motor pool space.”
The construction projects provide a mutually beneficial opportunity for both the 180th and Fort Pickett, explained Latimer.
“We get to train on our equipment and [Fort] Pickett gets better roads,” Latimer said.
The 180th also demolished and hauled away 12 derelict training structures outside of an urban terrain training venue. The structures were built nearly 20 years ago and needed to be replaced, said Latimer.
Not all of annual training was spent building and shooting, some of the Engineers blew some stuff up. The West Point-based 237th Engineer Company completed a 10-day field training exercise involving individual movement techniques, team and squad tactical operations, as well as demolitions.
“We focused on three mission essential tasks, mobility, counter-mobility and engineer reconnaissance,” said Capt. Jarrett White, company commander. “This was a very exciting training event for us, we got to plan and execute training tasks that haven’t been touched for years.”
The culminating event for the Sappers was the demolitions range. The purpose of the training was to expose and familiarize combat engineers to many different types of explosives. Demolition charges are a three-part system requiring an explosive, a charging system and a triggering mechanism. Experienced range safety officials took every precaution to ensure Soldiers’ safety at all times, including time to practice on inert charges prior to emplacing the live charges.
The combat engineers emplaced four “ring main” charges using C-4 plastic explosives. A “ring main” charge connects multiple explosive charges, spread across a small distance, which allows all of the explosives to detonate at a same time.
Soldiers also trained to create shaped charges. A shaped charge is a cylindrical block of high explosive. It generally has a conical cavity in one end that directs the cone-lining material into a narrow jet to penetrate materials, like doors, walls, bunkers, etc., explained White.
The largest explosive emplaced was a cratering charge. The 39-pound Comp H6 explosive is positioned below the surface and requires someone to dig down to a specific depth before emplacement. Once detonated the cratering charge creates a large hole in the ground and is often used to prevent vehicles from traveling down a specific route.
The last explosive trained was the Bangalore torpedo. A Bangalore torpedo is an explosive charge placed within one or several connected tubes and is used to clear obstacles that would otherwise require them to avoid.
“The Bangalore is such a cool explosive,” White said. “The Army has been using them for over 80 years and the technology hasn’t changed much. You connect the pieces like Lego, set the charge like normal and detonate to clear concertina wire, thick brush, fencing and really anything in our way.”
The battalion’s Petersburg-based Forward Support Company focused on tactical field craft in addition to providing maintenance, commodities distribution and logistics management.
“We got back to basics this year,” said Capt. Drew Robinson, company commander. “It’s the first time in a long time that our Soldiers got to do some field craft. Getting out in the woods, doing patrols, digging foxholes and living in the field, was really beneficial—but hard, training.”
The logisticians performed a 96-hour field training exercise which involved establishing multiple defensive positions around their company headquarters. The Soldiers had to improve fighting positions during the day while also performing their normal duties. Then, at night, a simulated “opposing force” provided by the 180th would attack the fighting positions attempting to capture the company’s guidon using blank munitions, smoke grenades and artillery simulators, explained Robinson.
“It’s not just about training Soldiers how to shoot their weapons, but its training for leaders to refine processes, learn how to effectively capture and communicate requirements, bolster standard operating procedures for future training and operations,” Robinson said.
The battalion conducted a formal Staff Ride at the Yorktown National Battlefield as part of the Fleishman’s professional development program. The staff ride was proctored by members of the Army’s Center for Military History.
“I’m incredibly proud of our Soldiers this year,” said Fleishman. “They’ve been through so much in the past year, it’s great to get them back to doing the things they joined the Army to do.”