Aug. 14, 2009

Guard engineers bridge the gap for local community

By Capt. Matt Nowak
Virginia Army Guard Public Affairs

BIG STONE GAP, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company watched as leaders from the town of Big Stone Gap hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to signify the unit’s contribution in building a vehicle bridge as part of their annual training Aug. 3.

  189th Engineer Company

Big Stone Gap's Mayor Barbara Orndorff cuts the ribbon to signify the opening of the bridge to vehicle traffic. The ceremony was attended by the Town Council, Town Manager - Pat Murphy, Capt. James Morris, Brig. Gen. Stephen Huxtable, and Col. Steven Scott. (Photo by Capt. Matt Nowak, Virginia Army Guard Public Affairs)

Working alongside a local contractor, engineers from the 189th, a multi-role bridge company, helped construct a temporary bridge that was used while the existing bridge was dismantled and a new bridge was constructed. Vehicle traffic was not slowed as a result of this bridge project.

Along with spectators and Soldiers, Big Stone Gap’s mayor, town manager and town council members were all on hand to show their appreciation for the unit in completing the majority of work on the bridge.

 “The building of this bridge increases the capabilities of utilities and emergency responders. The bridge services 27 homes and an apartment complex,” said Mayor Barbara Orndorff. “We have had to use smaller vehicles such as pickup trucks to pick up trash and haven’t been able to send a school bus across in a long time.”

As part of the ceremony, the unit presented Town Manager Pat Murphy with certificate of appreciation. Murphy coordinated all aspects of the project with civilian organizations and the 189th. His coordination took over five months and allowed the 189th to work seamlessly with the civilian contractor.

Jim Vernon, a resident of Big Stone Gap was also presented a certificate of appreciation. Vernon donated the use of a big screen TV with cable and a soft serve ice cream machine and ice cream to the unit for the duration of annual training.

Soldiers spent about 85 daylight hours through weather to complete their portion of construction on the bridge. It rained everyday except for three days while on the site. The civilian contractors don’t normally work in the rain but were willing to stay because of the dedication and time constraints of the 189th.  

“We were willing to work 24/7 but, the contractors aren’t able to,” explained Capt. James Morris, commander of the 189th. “The contractor informed us it would have taken them three months or longer to complete the work, but the unit did in the two weeks. We also saved the town over $100,000.”

  189th Engineer Company

Soldiers from the 189th Engineer Company sit in a 5-ton dump truck as it becomes the first vehicle to cross the newly- constructed Proctor Street Bridge Aug. 3rd. The 189th spent their two week annual training in Big Stone Gap gaining real world construction experience to build the bridge for the town. (Photo by Capt. Matt Nowak, Virginia Army Guard Public Affairs)

Planning for this project began in early March. The initial concept was to use a military bridge owned by the 189th as a temporary bridge while the permanent bridge was refurbished. Unfortunately, due to many constraints a military bridge was not a viable option.

A plan was finalized for the unit to assist in the construction of a temporary steel beam and concrete decking "Work Bridge." The bridge had a 42-ton capacity and has also served as a platform to work from with our heavy equipment.

As part of military bridging tradition, the commander of the unit jumps in the water of the bridged gap. However, the stream was too shallow so the unit improvised. Morris and 1st Sgt. Earnest Outten were drenched by a bucket of water held over their heads from the excavator.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Huxtable, Assistant Adjutant General for the Army, and Col. Steven Scott, commander of the 91st Troop Command, made the trip from Richmond to attend the event. Scott presented awards and coins to Soldiers of the 189th for their performance during the bridge construction.

The ceremony was concluded with the first vehicle crossing the bridge, a dump truck full of Soldiers.

The 189th Engineers are based in Bowling Green and includes a detachment at the Big Stone Gap Armory, where the Soldiers stayed for the two weeks of annual training.

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