FORT BARFOOT, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to engineer units from across the state had the unique opportunity to work together to begin construction on a new light demolition range during annual training June 3-17, 2023, at Fort Barfoot, Virginia.
“Engineers have a long history of supporting large scale construction projects that help to make an impact on our communities and the commonwealth,” said Maj. Andrew Czaplicki, executive officer of the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. “Coming out of COVID, civil support missions and just the operational tempo of our units, it’s been a couple years since we’ve been able to do a large scale project like this.”
Once complete, the new range will help to enhance Fort Barfoot’s training capabilities and better equip Soldiers for modern combat scenarios. The construction of the new light demolition range aims to provide a state-of-the-art facility for Soldiers to hone their skills in controlled demolition and explosive operations.
“This new range will add tremendous training value to Fort Barfoot,” said Czaplicki. “Not only the Virginia National Guard, but engineers from various branches and components of the military, along with our civilian and government partners from different agencies can all do their demolitions training here.”
Having the VNG’s engineer units work on this project is a tremendous benefit to the installation, according to Col. James C. Shaver Jr., the Fort Barfoot garrison commander.
“Another unique and valuable component to this project, in addition to the troops getting to execute mission focused live training, is the overall cost savings,” said Shaver. “Doing the earthwork in-house will save funds for the more expensive elements of the range such as the blast protection structures and configuration of the actual demo training stations.”
Building of the new range will be a multi-year project, with an anticipated completion date of sometime in 2025.
“Phasing it like this is also cheaper and less destructive to the environment,” Shaver added. “We combined some forestry management activities with the site selection and environmental coordination, and now the engineers get to do land clearing work, rough grading, and road construction to flesh out the overall structure of the range.”
The main focus of the work during this annual training period has been on the construction of more than a kilometer of roadway for the new range deep in the woodland of Fort Barfoot. This work required the cooperation and integration of units from across Virginia bringing together engineer Soldiers of various backgrounds and skill sets.
“This has really been a great, integrated training opportunity for everyone involved,” said 1st Lt. Jenesis Harper, Executive Officer of the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion and project manager for the first phase of construction on the new range.
From the outside, building a new training facility such as this may not appear overly complicated, in reality, it requires quite a variety of skills, expertise, and equipment to get the job done.
Surveyors and technical engineers from the 276th’s headquarters worked to create drawings and topographical surveys of the new range, which included ensuring that the roadway is built in such a way as to follow the natural contours of the land as much as possible.
Combat engineers assigned to the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion utilized their demolitions skills to help clear trees from what would become the roadway.
“They came in and laid a bunch of C-4 charges on the trees, did a bunch of demolition and abatis work, which was really great for those Sappers to get that type of training since they don’t normally have the opportunity to blow trees that often,” said Harper.
More than 4,000 tons of crushed rock and gravel are estimated to be needed to finish the project. It has been the job of the Fort Barfoot-based 157th Engineer Platoon, one of only four quarry units in the National Guard, to produce all of that material.
“We’ve already been able to supply approximately 1,000 tons of rock for this project,” said Sgt. Jalyn Morgan, maintenance noncommissioned officer with the 157th.
“We’ve been working very closely with the 157th and they are creating all of the stone used on the project from material extracted from Fort Barfoot itself,” said Czaplicki. “We’re sitting on a bed of granite, one of the hardest, most durable rocks there is.”
In addition to creating the stone, Soldiers from the 157th also assisted with hauling it, load by load, to the site of the new range.
“We started hauling operations by integrating the quarry’s drivers, along with their 10 and 20-ton dump trucks, in with our own. We were able to create a nice little loop, where the drives come in, drop the rock, and then we have the roller come out and do a pass of compaction,” added Harper.
This project also afforded many Soldiers the opportunity to cross-train and work with Soldiers from other units that they would normally not be able to train with.
“This has been a really great experience for me,” said Spc. Charles Calloway, a horizontal construction engineer with the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “Getting to work with the folks from the 180th on a real-world project has been good. They have more experience and having them coach us up on how and where to spread the gravel was good, practical experience.”
“Being in the BEB, we normally focus on mobility and countermobility stuff,” added Sgt. Kristopher Lisewski with the 229th. “Getting to support this type of project, operating the equipment, has been really good training for us.”
One of the unique benefits that engineer Soldiers enjoy is getting to see the lasting impact their work can have.
“When you come into the National Guard, you expect to make a difference and you expect to leave a legacy of something behind, whether that's the memories or the friendships you make,” said Czaplicki. “But, as engineers, one of the true benefits that we bring is that the stuff that we do on drill weekends and annual training leaves a physical impact on where we train.”
View more photos of the range construction at https://ngpa.us/25817 and https://ngpa.us/25818.