MARINE CORPS TRAINING AREA BELLOWS, Hawaii: In today’s interconnected global arena, deployment readiness is contingent on Soldiers’ ability to work in partnership with other joint services and allied nations. In the summer of 2018, the Soldiers of 561st Engineer Construction Company (ECC), 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade trained alongside 1st Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) Seabees at Bellows Air Force Base during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018. Founded in 1971, RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, hosted every two years on and around the Hawaiian Islands. RIMPAC 2018 included participation from 25 nations, 56 ships, 5 submarines, approximately 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel.
The 561st ECC “Warriors” put their diverse engineering skillset to the test during RIMPAC 2018, exercising their adaptability through multi-faceted construction missions.
At the peak of the exercise, the Warriors and Seabees were conducting four simultaneous construction projects, to include Airfield Damage Repair (ADR) training, and the construction of combat roads and trails and a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) landing site. These joint-force projects provided 561st ECC an opportunity to improve their interoperability and technical skills, thus testing the total readiness of the company.
To say that both units merely “passed” this test of readiness would be an understatement to the overwhelming success of 561st ECC and 1NCR.
Combat Trails Yield Real Results
Though the construction projects were rooted in the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) training scenario of RIMPAC 2018, the outcomes had real world, positive implications for Bellows Airforce Base. At the completion of RIMPAC, Soldiers had constructed three combat trails totaling over 5,000 feet, thereby enhancing maneuverability and access to training sites across Bellows.
Along the southern area of operations at Bellows, two platoons from 561st ECC and operators from 1NCR constructed two combat trails from scratch, a unique opportunity on the island of Oahu. As Soldiers carved out the trails to enable maneuver across training sites, the dense vegetation posed a challenge to initial design plans. However, the terrain did not inhibit the Warriors as they completed both trails ahead of schedule. It is not often that Soldiers get to create combat trails from start to finish, from clearing and grubbing to grading and stabilizing the final surface. Seeing their efforts come to fruition, out of the forest emerged two brand new trails ready to support vehicular movement in and around the training area.
The third trail constructed by 1st Platoon, 561st ECC improved accessibility to the Engineer Training Area (ETA) at Bellows. While Soldiers were simultaneously engaged on the road construction, the platoon took the opportunity to cross-train Seabees on six pieces of engineering equipment. This fostered the very sort of partnerships with the Navy that RIMPAC seeks to establish.
Interoperability – Airfield Damage Repair
During the preparation phase of the ADR mission at Bellows, 561st ECC set the conditions for joint training with the United States Navy. Recognizing that the island of Oahu did not have a training area to support cratering and repair training, Soldiers from 1st and 3rd Platoon constructed two reinforced concrete pads throughout the month of June to simulate a real-world runway. Measuring 30 feet by 45 feet, the large scale of the reinforced concrete pads presented a new training opportunity for the engineers of 561st ECC. According to project manager 1st. Lt. Erik Delgado, the varying expertise across the different platoons ensured the success of the site construction.
“As a Horizontal Platoon Leader, it was a challenge to lead Vertical engineers and Seabees,” 1st. Lt. Delgado stated. “By working together, we could see how the Seabees operated differently, and took the best of both systems to finish the project. Despite the trial and error process, both units did a great job and the Navy was very pleased with the results of the pads.”
When it was time to execute the joint Airfield Damage Repair mission, the Warriors and Seabees teamed up over the course of three days to conduct training using flowable fill concrete. Instructed by 1NCR, Soldiers implemented flowable fill as a hasty method to repair the simulated airfield. The material solidifies within six hours, and can be used as a temporary solution to cratered airfields in austere operational environments.
“Working with the Navy gave my Soldiers and me an opportunity to interact, build partnerships and learn a side of engineering operations we are not normally accustomed to,” said Sgt. Jamaar Crump, a team leader in 1st Platoon, 561st ECC. “Overall, the RIMPAC exercise allowed both organizations to improve their individual effectiveness as well as increase joint force capabilities within the Pacific Area of Operations.”
Cross Training Increases Proficiency
Through this multi-force training exercise, both Army and Navy learned how to tackle operational challenges from a new perspective, ultimately increasing adaptability throughout the ranks. The opportunity to cross-train with the Navy during RIMPAC 2018 not only expanded the engineering repertoire of the Warriors and Seabees, but it also formed an allegiance across branches of service.
“As Army Soldiers, we rarely get the opportunity to train with our peers in the Navy and to gain an understanding of each other’s capabilities and limitations,” reflected Cpt. Jeremy Reynolds, 561st ECC Company Commander. “At the end of the day, I think all would agree that, despite our differences, we are stronger and more lethal as a joint force.”
To cap off a successful training exercise, Soldiers volunteered side-by-side to clean up debris along the beach at Bellows. However, despite the summer-long collaboration, the sense of unit pride persisted as Soldiers battled it out in a game of Army versus Navy Frisbee at the end of the mission. Perhaps a rematch is on the horizon during RIMPAC 2020.
1st Lt. Kirsten Walsh is the 1st Platoon Leader for 561st Engineer Construction Company, 84th Engineer Battalion. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science and commissioned through Army ROTC at Dickinson College. She is a graduate of the Engineer Basic Officer Leader Course, Sapper Leader Course, Air Assault School and Unit Movement Officer Course.