Wolfpack Engineers combine construction with combat skills during Ulchi Freedom Guardian

by 1st. Lt. Michael A. Burkeen, 643rd Engineer Support Company
Stripes Korea

POCHEON, South Korea - Units travel from all over South Korea to refine their warfighting skills at Rodriguez Live Fire Complex. For many, this means conducting large-scale tactical movements, rifle ranges, or firing missiles. For vertical engineers, this means construction and project management.

During Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2017, the annual combined military exercise between the United States and South Korea, Soldiers from the 643rd Engineer Support Company, 602d Aviation Support Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade trained on their mission essential tasks by improving several facilities at the mountainous, multi-thousand-acre training area.

The peninsula's only vertical engineers, the Wolfpack Soldiers set out for an ambitious, and productive, work schedule. During the two week exercise, the platoon's plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and masons divided up into several different locations in order to ensure the success and timeliness of all the project sites.

The first site was an ongoing, large-scale project to rebuild four shoot houses at Black Hawk Village that have grown old and unstable. Black Hawk Village is a multi-faceted training site with pop-up targets, shoot houses, a laboratory and much more.

The engineers spent the first half of the training exercise clearing and demolishing four sand-filled wooden buildings and an underground interconnecting tunnel. In the coming months, the platoon will return to rebuild the tunnels with concrete and recreate the buildings with Concrete Masonry Unit blocks, providing an enduring and safe mock Korean village for units to use.

The second and third sites are Southeast Asia Huts that were in desperate need of a weather-proof upgrade. Soldiers who train at the range use the huts as heating and cooling centers.

The vertical platoon built the huts earlier but, due to logistical issues, was unable to put the finishing touches on the project. Despite that, this stubborn platoon was set on finishing what it started and coordinated to do just that.

After taking a break to train in small unit tactics at Story Live Fire Complex, the Engineer Soldiers returned and resheathed the roof and ceilings of both buildings, painted, installed rain gutters and added a protective tin roof.

Construction is almost never a cheap option but fortunately for Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, the leadership has capitalized on the capabilities Army engineers offer and formed a strong partnership with the Camp Humphreys-based engineer support company.

Since one of the largest obstacles engineers face is finding land and materials to support their mission essential tasks and using civilian contractors can be very expensive, this combined effort allows for the company to train their engineers on numerous tasks while simultaneously providing support to the live fire complex, saving the military hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We were glad to see such a unique opportunity come our way," said Sgt. Eric M. DuBard, a squad leader and project foreman. "Training like this works out great for everybody involved and really helps train Soldiers to 'Fight Tonight' here in Korea."

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