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Regional Training Institute preps horizontal construction engineers
Regional Training Institute preps horizontal construction engineers

Missouri National Guard Pfc. Ernest Fowler, of the 220th Engineer Company in Festus, moves a log with a scoop loader during horizontal construction engineer military occupational specialty training at Camp Crowder in Neosho.
NEOSHO, Mo. (May 12, 2009) — While some are working with the Missouri National Guard to reclassify out of construction engineering into combat engineering, 11 National Guardsmen were reclassified with a new military occupational specialty in May at Camp Crowder by instructors from the 1st Battalion, Engineer Training Battalion, 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute of Fort Leonard Wood.

The soldiers, from units in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, are learning to be horizontal construction engineers. Their mission function is to build and maintain projects including air strips, roads and lakes using heavy equipment. They also make big contributions when called on during state emergency duty.

“This helps train these people to assist with blizzards, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes,” said Sgt. 1st Class George Recar, institute instructor. “All of this equipment is used in different things like that. I’ve been activated four times in less than six months.”

Students must complete three phases of training.

The first phase is completed through an 80-hour, online distance learning course, prior to coming to Camp Crowder for the four-week program.

“That is necessary so that when they arrive on the ground, theoretically, we can hand them the logbook and the machine and say, ‘execute,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Haggard, branch chief for the course. “It doesn’t quite work that well, but we’re working through that. That’s a lot of hours for a non-noncommissioned officer to put in on their own to complete it.”

“So what a lot of units are doing is splitting out drills, so that they can get that done. I hope that they continue to do that,” Haggard said.

Phase I is the prerequisite for the next two phases, which can be taken in either order.

Phase II lasts two weeks and soldiers work with Hydraulic Excavators, Small Emplacement Excavators and the front end scoop loaders.

In phase III, soldiers learn about 621B Earth Scrapers, 130G Graders and D7 Bulldozers.

“The first thing we do is introduce them to the equipment and their capabilities,” Recar said. “Then we go into the preventative maintenance checks and services. We go over the safety guidelines of the equipment and how to operate the controls.”

Recar said the safety guidelines are pertinent.

“Without them, you’d have a real high percentage of injuries or death,” he said. “This equipment is not forgiving.”

Spc. Joseph Broach, of the 880th Engineer Haul Team in Perryville, said safety has been stressed in the class.

“The most important thing I’ve learned so far is safety — making sure you don’t hurt anybody around you or yourself,” said Broach, who lives in Cape Girardeau. “That’s a big deal.”

Soldiers then learn how to maneuver the equipment on the road and job site in different situations, as well as how to safely pick up, load and set down materials. They also are taught how to excavate with each piece of equipment.

“With excavating, basically you would pick up a load of dirt and if you are going to haul it over 3,000 feet you use the scraper,” Recar said.

Each piece of equipment also has a specific function that is covered. On the scoop loader, soldiers will operate a clam shell to load a dump truck. With the Small Emplacement Excavators, soldiers will dig a two-person fighting position. The Hydraulic Excavators will be used to construct as ditch. So will the D7 Bulldozers, which also have to help load the 621B Earth Scrapers. With the grader, soldiers learn to level the ground and create a V-ditch, which is the type of ditch next to roads.

Broach said the instructors offer plenty of information from personal field experience.

“They offer a lot second-hand stuff, outside of the book,” he said. “That’s been really good. You learn something and you execute it right then. That’s a really good procedure.”

The course, Broach said, should make him an even bigger asset to his unit.

“It gives me additional tasks that I’m able to execute and I’m more versatile to my unit as far as being a combat soldier as well as an engineer and a heavy equipment operator,” he said. “The course itself has also instilled a lot of military bearing.”

Pfc. Ernest Fowler, of the 220th Engineer Company in Festus, said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to get hands-on with the equipment.

“I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge as far as safety on how to operate the different types of equipment,” Fowler said. “I’m thinking, right now, I could probably drive that scoop loader better than my own personal car.”

Fowler said, until the class, he had sat on some of the heavy equipment involved in the course before, but never operated any of it.

“I was a little worried when I first got here, but after the first day, I was fine,” Fowler said. “The instructors are very knowledgeable and they give us all the information and things that we need prior to getting on the equipment, so that we can be as safe as possible.”

“Then they don’t expect us to get out and do something right away. They walk us through it,” Fowler said.

He was a little surprised with how easily he’s picked up the operation of the equipment.

“Looking at that piece of equipment, you’d think it would be really hard to operate and make it do what it’s built to do,” said Fowler, as he pointed at a scoop loader. “But with just a little bit of practice and the knowledge that we’ve been given, it’s not that difficult at all.”

It also was the first look at the equipment for Spc. Daniel Burr, of the 880th Engineer Haul Team.

“Basically this I the first time I’ve run any type of equipment besides a tractor or something else on the farm,” he said. “So I’ve gathered a lot of information from this, as far as safety and things like that.”

Because of the quality of the instructors, Burr said he didn’t feel overwhelmed with having to learn so much.

“They allow you an ample amount of time to pick up the basics,” Burr said. “Obviously, you won’t be a professional, but you’ll have an idea of how the machine works.”

Burr, who lives in Patton, said the Hydraulic Excavator is his favorite piece of equipment.

“I’ve been watching that thing ever since we’ve been here,” he said. “I think it looks pretty neat.”

Sgt. 1st Class Andy Monsees, of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203rd Engineer Battalion of Joplin, said he has some experience, both military and civilian, with some of the equipment. He is planning to deploy soon with his unit and will likely work in the tactical operations center and not on the equipment. But he expects going through the course will help him better serve his soldiers.

“I’ll better understand work and job estimates, where I can better communicate with the guys who are actually out there running the equipment,” said Monsees, who lives in Joplin. “Hopefully I get a chance to run some equipment — maybe they’ll come up short on manpower and I can jump in on one. But the course will qualify me to run all this equipment so I can be an asset if needed.”

Haggard said he loves to train enthusiastic soldiers on heavy equipment operation at Camp Crowder.

“This is the best training site in Missouri for the heavy equipment,” Haggard said. “It has the best open ground and the lay of the land is a natural grade. It’s the only heavy equipment operating site that I know of in the state. All the units can use this. Camp Crowder supports us tremendously and we work with Camp Crowder closely on being able to access the site.”

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