Hoosier Guardsmen build abroad on German base

By Capt. Caitie Sweet | 1413th Engineer Company | Sept. 6, 2019

Hohenfels, Germany —

A Russian-style trench network, a three-sided storage structure, and a mock Unmanned Aerial System runway: the common denominator? The 1413th Engineer Company in Hoenfels, Germany.

The engineering company based out Franklin, Indiana built four various projects as part of the “Trans-Atlantic Castle” exercise Aug. 11-30 in a joint effort with the Illinois National Guard and the Missouri National Guard’s Forward Engineer Support Team.  They spent three weeks building up and strengthening the Hohenfels base infrastructure and training capabilities. 

According to Capt. Gary Huffman, the 1413th company commander, Trans-Atlantic Castle is a continuous rotation of reserve component engineer units, who comprise more than 70 percent of the Army’s engineering force, coming to Germany to work on the various construction projects needed on base.  “The Hohenfels military base does not have an active engineer unit, so we are here doing that for them because anything that needs done here on post, the National Guard has to do,” added Cpl. William Blevins, a soldier with the 1413th.

The first project, a three-sided storage facility constructed by first platoon will be used for structural material storage material.  The two-storied, 30’x60’ facility required detailed planning, staining the lumber with preservatives, leveling the grounds and coordinating with civilian concrete trucks for the concrete pillars embedded two feet deep in the ground.  Only then could the vertical construction begin.  20-foot wooden posts were erected atop the concrete pillars, followed by horizontal girders (support beams) placed on the structure’s exterior. Roof headers and trusses were then put into place and lastly the corrugated walls and roof installed, bringing the project to completion.

Overcoming various obstacles to accomplish the mission at Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels has become second nature to the 1413th leadership.  Coordination and resources have not been made readily available to the company, but adjusting and adapting to mission constraints has only made for stronger individuals and cohesion as a unit.   On the final week of construction, the battery-powered tools began losing their power due to insufficient voltage converters, which forced soldiers to utilize hand tools.

“We anticipated a lot of resource constraints to overcome, in managing expectations and stress levels of platoon leaders and sergeants and the rest of the company,” said Huffman. “To help overcome those (obstacles), (we) help them believe in themselves enough so they can achieve more than they thought due to their resource constraints.”

Some of the projects are so rarely seen, or needed outside of European soil that they require more creativity and flexibility to see the project to fruition, as experts in the field are unable to rely on experience.  Second platoon led the way in the Russian-styled trench network, a one-of a kind training capability at Hohenfels, which will be used to train Eastern European countries in Russian trench warfare.

Once the 776th Engineer Company, an Illinois National Guard horizontal engineering unit, brought the trenches to the desired depth and width for design and safety purposes, over 100 14-foot posts were erected in three short days. 

Pouring the concrete alone tested the platoon’s creativity.  In most construction projects, concrete trucks are able to pour straight into the desired location.  However, on the trench network, the truck parked a safe distance from the soft soil of trench and poured concrete into the bucket of a bobcat where 8-12 soldiers lined up in an assembly line, armed with buckets, to pour in the holes surrounding the erected posts, much like tag-teamed sandbagging in natural disasters.

“I’ve learned that it’s better to work as a team, the more you work as a team, the more we become a better unit,” said Blevins.

“When everyone works together as a team, everything gets accomplished as a team.” Miller, a 1413th soldier.  “A highlight for me is working my guys, I love working with all these guys and I love teaching them, and I love when they teach me things.”

The tertiary project, the short take-off and Landing crater lane or a mock UAS runway has the 1413th third platoon pouring a 25’x100’ concrete pad.  The faux runway will be used for training purposes by combat engineers in the future to be demolished by either explosives or mechanical means and then repaired by US army forces doing rapid runway repair.

All projects have a teaching and learning component for all soldiers within the Trans-Atlantic Castle exercise.  Sgt. Leslie Jones, a squad leader with the third platoon who works in construction-project management as a civilian, has learned how to use an industry-grade laser level, which she has expertly used on all three project locations to ensure each project sits at the correct grade and fill level.  She additionally has been using this time to hone her leadership skills in the three-week stay at Hohenfels.

This expansive training aids the company’s mission essential tasks, from rapid deployment operations to construction, Huffman adds that it allows them to train off-sight and away from distraction.

One final project was added to the 1413th task list; a project to consolidate and reorganize and build new products for the troop construction project class IV, or construction material, yard.

“The 1413th Engineer Company, honing their engineering skills and showing their wares in Hohenfels, Germany as part of the Overseas Detachment Training mission, is an outstanding opportunity,” said Lt. Col. John Roark, 113th EN BN CDR.  “The Trans-Atlantic Castle exercise provides challenging and realistic training in vertical construction, which is mutually beneficial to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center’s Training Area, enhancing their capabilities through our skilled trades’ labor.  The 113th Engineer Battalion is very pleased to be a part of this exercise and very proud of our 1413th Engineers for their inspirational effort.”