July 30, 2009

Engineers assist with Big Stone Gap bridge project

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

BIG STONE GAP, Va. — Soldiers from the Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion began assisting with the reconstruction of the Proctor Street Bridge in Big Stone Gap July 27 as part of the unit’s two weeks of annual training. Working with a local contractor, Virginia Guard engineers helped construct a temporary bridge that will be used while the existing bridge is dismantled and a new bridge is constructed.


Virginia Guard engineers work to complete the temporary bridge beside the Proctor Street Bridge in Big Stone Gap.(Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) Click HERE to see more photos on the Virginia Guard Public Affairs Flickr site.

A detachment of the 189th is assigned to the Big Stone Gap armory, and in addition to being able to help their local community, about 40 Virginia Guard Soldiers are gaining valuable real-world experience in bridge construction. The project is expected to be completed by Aug. 7.

“This project gives our Soldiers some real-world, hands-on training, and they are learning a new set of skills they will be able to use in the future,” said Capt. James Morris, commander of the 189th. “The bridge they are building will be around long after most of us have retired from the Virginia Guard.”

Planning on the project began in March when Morris learned the bridge had been evaluated by Virginia Department of Transportation engineers as unsafe for heavy vehicle traffic. This meant that garbage trucks, school buses, ambulances and fire trucks could no longer cross the bridge to provide basic services to residents on the other side.

Working with the town manager, Morris was able to determine where the Guard engineers could assist the contractor with the project.

Morris said that when they arrived at the start of AT, the contractors has constructed about 65 percent of the temporary bridge. His Soldiers immediately went to work to help place additional concrete deck slabs, as well as finish the bank work on the far side of the bridge and finish the rock work on the exit.

With the temporary bridge in place and open for traffic, Morris said his Soldiers began work to dismantle the old bridge and then they would work with the contractors in the constructions of the new bridge.

Soldiers from the 189th learned a great deal from just helping the contractors emplace the temporary bridge, Morris said. “Our guys are getting knowledge from the experts,” Morris said. “The contractors are really happy with the work our Soldiers are doing, and I think they were surprised at the level of skill demonstrated by our equipment operators.”

The military mission of the 189th is to emplace a variety of different military bridges, but Morris said the experience they are gaining by working on the civilian bridge would make them better at their military mission.

“They are going to be able to see what a bridge is like in the civilian world and add that to their military experience,” said Staff Sgt. Ernest Daggett, heavy equipment section sergeant from Fredericksburg. “If we ever get deployed, they will already have some real-world experience moving rock and dirt to be able to put in a bridge.”

Daggett said the unit is rotating Soldiers through operating different pieces of heavy equipment on the project, and they would also be conducting training and operator licensing with younger Soldiers in the unit.

“We are able to build something that helps the community, and that is a great feeling,” Daggett said. “That’s why I joined the Guard.”

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