Missouri National Guardsmen with the 1438th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company, of Macon, listen to instructions while they put together an Acrow military bridge during training at Fort Leonard Wood.
(Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)
By Matthew J. Wilson
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - About 30 Soldiers from the Missouri National Guard's 1438th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company, of Macon, recently spent two weeks at a course on post learning to put together the Acrow military bridge.
Although the bridge is similar to prefabricated panel bridges the Guardsmen have worked with in the past, they had never worked with the Acrow version. With the unit scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within the next year where they might be asked to construct this type of bridge, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Burns said it was important for at least some members of the 140-person company to have experience with it.
"It has a lot of additional reinforcements and all the pieces and components are much larger than what they've dealt with in the past," said Burns, who lives in Nixa. "The training has been fantastic. So far, from what I've seen, they've dealt with it fantastically."
But it's been a lot of intensive work.
"Twelve days of building a bridge is exhausting," Burns said.
As the unit gets closer to deployment, Sgt. 1st Class J.T. Burton, a platoon sergeant in the unit, said the entire unit will receive more training on the Acrow, most likely again at Fort Leonard Wood.
"I think we'll be right back here," said Burton, who lives in Meadville. "This group will be the ones who have a step up on the rest of the unit. They are doing well and they're all learning."
Burton said the major difference between the Acrow and other panel bridges the unit has worked with is its size and the amount of manpower required to build it.
"This one's just a little bit different and a lot bigger," Burton said.
The size and weight of the materials used to build the bridge, Burton said, are what make it challenging. A crane is normally used to help move the panels and transoms around, but during the first week of training, these Guardsmen did everything by hand.
During the second week, they had the benefit of using a crane.
Burton said experience also will speed up the process of building the bridge.
"On a lot of these bridges, it's repetition," he said. "Once you get the small details figured out, the site layout and calculations for your launching are the only things that vary. Other than that, it's not too big of a deal."
The bridges can be more than 60 meters in length and it would take an experienced crew roughly three days to complete. An average crew could produce one triple-paneled section of the bridge in about 45 minutes.
Sgt. Matt Carney, who is a squad leader, was among those who deployed with the 1438th to Iraq from 2004-2005. While deployed, he said the unit worked with similar panel bridges, primarily the Maybe-Johnson Bridge.
"We built a lot of those in Iraq and the main difference between that bridge and this one is where the transoms sit," said Carney, who lives in Wentzville. "On this bridge, they fit between the panels and on the Maybe-Johnson they fit inside the panels."
Carney said the Maybe-Johnson Bridge also is seen as more of a long-term solution, where as the Acrow bridge is more of a temporary fix.
One other difference, Carney said, is that the Acrow bridge takes longer to put together because of the heavier parts and a wider variety of parts.
"There are seven different types of bolts and each one of them goes into a different section - that's a big key," Carney said. "The Maybe-Johnson, we had two different types of bolts and that was it."
Carney encouraged his fellow Guardsmen to keep a focus to detail in putting the Acrow bridge together.
"There is a learning curve and we've got a lot of new people," Carney said. "They really need to pay attention to the bolts in this bridge. They also need to be thinking about the next step. That will make putting the bridges together go a lot faster."
A less seasoned member of the unit, Pfc. Shelton Johnson, said building the Acrow bridge without a crane during the first week made building it with a crane during the second week a lot easier to understand, as well as easier on their backs.
"I feel like we learned a lot the first week because we built it by hand," said Johnson, who lives in Columbia. "We learned that it's heavy, and it's put together a little differently than other bridges we've worked with. Our backs were a little bruised, swollen and sore, but I think it's going to be a good bridge."
Johnson said he was definitely glad to get hands-on experience with the Acrow bridge now, rather than later.
"Seeing this bridge before we deploy is better because it lets us know what we're going to be doing in theater without any distractions," he said. "We could be taking fire, and there could be something that would change our mindset. We now know what we're going into rather than going in blind."
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Missouri National Guard Sgt. Matt Carney, left, 1st Sgt. Richard Burns, center, and Sgt. 1st Class J.T. Burton attach a beam for the Acrow military bridge to a crane cable during a training course for the 1438th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company, of Macon, at Fort Leonard Wood.
(Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)