June 16, 2005
By Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne
BLACKSTONE, Va. -- While Fort Pickett enjoyed the removal of an eyesore, Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers experienced a rare training opportunity when they conducted their annual training at the post June 12-25.
The Fredericksburg-based “Bushmasters” of B Company, 229th Engineer Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, used nearly 1,000 pounds of explosives to destroy an old bridge that had been swept downriver by last year’s storms.
“It’s really rare to get this chance to blow up a bridge,” said Capt. Mark Miller, the company commander. “Part of our mission is to make bridges go away but because of the cost, we rarely get this opportunity.”
That rare opportunity came about because of a Soldier’s reenlistment wish. As Miller recounted, a veteran noncommissioned officer in the unit was planning to leave the military when his enlistment was up and his commander was looking for ways to convince him to stay.
“He said one thing he’d never done was he’d never blown up a bridge,” Miller, a Leesburg resident, recalled. “So we made a handshake agreement that, if he stayed in, we would blow up a bridge at annual training this year.”
Miller then had to try and find a bridge they could blow up. Eventually, one of the NCO’s in his unit heard from range control personnel at Fort Pickett that two of their bridges had been damaged by storms. After evaluating the two, the Bushmasters decided the smaller of the two bridges was an ideal candidate for destruction.
The wide, wooden bridge, which rested on the surface of the creek about 125 meters away from where it originally stood, required at least three separate explosions of nearly 300 pounds each to be destroyed to the Soldiers’ satisfaction.
After spending several days training up and preparing for the event, Miller and his Soldiers were ready for the real thing on June 15. Dozens of explosive charges were positioned on the structure and prepared for detonation.
“I’ve torn bridges down but this is my first time blowing one up,” said Spc. Martin Dingus of Falls Church. “We have a chance to take it out and see the aftermath. I’m excited to see what happens to it.”
For Pvt. Greg Hey, the bridge-blowing experience was even more meaningful. Only a week out of advanced individual training, it was the Manassas resident’s first annual training with the unit.
“I’ve done live demolitions before but this is my first time doing something like this,” Hey said. “So I’m getting ready for a really big boom.”
As the unit’s newest Soldier, Hey had the privilege of detonating the second explosive charge alongside the division’s top Soldier, Maj. Gen. Arthur Wyman, the commander of the 29th Inf. Div.
The explosions could be heard all over post but they were just one aspect of the training. Evaluating the bridge, planning a course of action and planting the explosives also proved to be a rare opportunity for the Soldiers.
“Something like this doesn’t happen unless someone asks a question,” Miller said. “I guess we asked the right questions.”