Wednesday morning, soldiers from multiple branches of the military built a bridge to cross the Arkansas River during a training exercise one mile off US-59 between Van Buren and Barling.
The 400-meter- (0.25-mile-) pontoon bridge was airlifted onto the river by helicopter, and the 40 sections were then attached by a mixture of Marines, Army Reserves and the Army 412th Engineering Command out of Vicksburg, Miss. The Army Dive Team was also on hand to assist the crossing.
“The soldiers are putting together the bridge sets as they’re floating down the river,” said Brig. Gen. Dan Christian, acting commander of the 412th.
From above, Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters dropped large sections of the bridge several yards downriver, and then Marines and members of the 412th used boats on the water to push the sections into place. According to Christian, the exercise was very close to real-world scenarios.
“They’re on target right now,” said Christian. “They probably have a good 45 minutes to an hour’s-worth of moving bridge sets into place.”
A six-piece section of bridge was brought into position at a 45-degree angle in under two minutes. An operation like this, even as a training exercise, brings a lot of people and pieces into play.
On the Van Buren side of the river, an armored personnel carrier is parked, with Military Police (MP) on guard duty, and a constant watch in all directions from a soldier manning the rotating turret on the roof. On the Barling side, Humvees and personnel prepare to cross once the bridge is completed, even as they assemble their half.
Christian said he was most impressed with how the different branches of the military came together for the training operation.
“I think one of the big things is that this is multi-combo,” said Christian. “You have Marines, some soldiers from the Army Reserves, we’re on a National Guard platform, so we have a number of different elements from the armed services coming together to make this mission happen.”
Being on the water, the Army 86th Engineering Dive Team was on hand for support.
“We have salvage capabilities, we do a lot of anti-terrorism force protection, sweep for mines underwater,” said Staff Sgt. Jake Feyers, coordinating the dive team from the Van Buren side. “We also participate in humanitarian operations, like Hurricane Sandy and relief in Haiti.”
Feyers is part of an elite team of 130-140 soldiers. For the day’s mission, he and his team participated in a hydrographic survey.
“Basically, we created a map of the (river) bottom,” added Feyers.
It was an important preliminary step in the day’s training exercise, since bridge commanders and battalion commanders both needed to know the condition of the river before sending their crews out. After mapping the river, the dive team spent the day on standby, in case they needed to retrieve a soldier or some equipment from the water.
Fortunately, they didn’t need to do either.
“If someone loses a piece of sensitive equipment, it’s our responsibility to retrieve that equipment,” Feyers added. “Equipment and personnel, if need be.”