Soldiers with the New York Army National Guard’s 152nd Engineer Company dumped the virtual training from 2020 and got down to being combat engineers again May 9-23 during annual training at an 840-acre site in western New York.
The two-week mission for the company, part of the 204th Engineer Battalion, was to upgrade the Youngstown local training area.
The Soldiers constructed an Army Combat Fitness Course and a situational training exercise lanes course, set up a land navigation course and improved the area’s road network. The engineers also cleared woods and improved drainage.
The construction is part of the New York National Guard’s Range Complex Master Plan, which calls for upgrading training areas to prepare Guard units for deployments.
The Youngstown training area is 35 miles north of Buffalo and 45 minutes west of Rochester, making it ideal for training units from western New York.
Getting away from computer training and getting back to hands-on training is critical for Soldiers, said Capt. Christopher Baun, the commander of the Buffalo-based engineer company.
“We gotta keep pushing and pushing,” he said.
Along with the engineering work, the Soldiers traveled to Fort Drum to conduct weapons qualification.
Col. Jamey Barcomb, commander of the 153rd Troop Command, said getting back to engineer skills for the company is not just a critical part of unit readiness but a critical retention issue.
“They signed up to be engineers and they want to be engineers, not conduct virtual training,” he said.
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Working individual and collective engineer tasks strengthens confidence and readiness, he said.
“What I see here today are Soldiers first, but they are also construction workers and engineers taking pride in their service,” Barcomb said.
Nothing compares to the hands-on opportunities in the field, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Lilly, a construction engineer technician with the 152nd Engineers.
“We are used to operating with stone, oil, mud and dirt,” he said.
The expanded training areas at Youngstown will decrease travel time for Soldiers of other units who might otherwise have traveled to Camp Smith in the Hudson Valley or Fort Drum in the North Country.
The expanded area will also improve training opportunities for police, federal agents and local Reserve Officer Training Programs, Baun said.
The training has been “nothing short of awesome,” said Spc. Zachary Stabler.
Stabler enlisted before the COVID-19 pandemic but only completed his Advanced Individual Training as an engineer amid COVID restrictions.
A civilian carpenter and roofing apprentice in his civilian life, Stabler said he appreciated the opportunity to sharpen his engineering skills at Youngstown.
Spc. Ashley Hicks, another construction worker in civilian life, said the skills used at Youngstown help individual Soldiers because they are “construction-based, rather than tactical-based.”
In the past four years, the 152nd Engineers have deployed for training to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief. They also built a field house for the Army Combat Fitness Test in Syracuse.
“We’re just thrilled to be back and training together,” Lilley said.
“In the Army, we adapt and build, and that’s what these Soldiers are demonstrating today,” Barcomb said.
-Article by Lt. Col. Al Phillips, New York National Guard