Longest Bridge: The Sequel
TAEGU, South Korea -- When troops go through the rigors of a field exercise in South Korea, they don’t usually emerge "ecstatic."
But that’s the word coming from a platoon of U.S. Marine engineers who just finished a drill with their South Korean counterparts near Pohang.
The leathernecks of Company A, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, out of Camp Hansen, Okinawa, spent a month in South Korea. They endured the hardening of a mountain warfare course; set up battlefield obstacles, then blew them up; and worked through the challenges of assembling a medium girder bridge, or MGB, that can span a gap in the route of advance.
Along the way, they also became the first Marine unit in years to build an MGB to its full 150-foot length, said their commanding officer, Capt. Damian Bess.
"We were ecstatic -- are you kidding me?" said Bess. "We were thrilled at the level of proficiency we gained on the bridging. And having built the longest bridge that anybody’s built in years in the Marine Corps, and in 9th ESB Alpha Company, was just a real thrill, and Marines love that."
All that training was done with their South Korean marine engineer counterparts. Known as exercise Dongsang Gongbyung, it was unrelated to the annual RSOI/Foal Eagle exercise still under way in South Korea.
On Okinawa, they normally practice building MGBs to only partial length because of limited space.
The exercise with the South Korean marines gave the 3rd Platoon a chance to practice skills their mission calls for.
First, they spent two days last month at the Mountain Leader’s Course in Ochon, near Pohang, adjusting to South Korea’s rugged, hilly terrain, rock climbing, rappelling and moving across rope bridges.
"It just prepares them for operating in a mountainous terrain," said Bess, "which, of course, there’s not a lot of on Okinawa but there’s quite a bit of in Korea."
Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marines and their South Korean counterparts work a battlefield engineering task during a training exercise near Pohang, South Korea. U.S. Marines from Company A, 9th Engineer Support Battalion on Okinawa are deployed to South Korea for about a month for the training.
Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. and South Korean Marines test a medium girder bridge they've set up during a battlefield engineering exercise near Pohang, South Korea.
Earlier this month, they went to the Su Song range near Pohang for training in both setting up and destroying obstacles.
Then came the bridge training, challenging because an MGB can’t be used until its individual sections, or "bays," are assembled, a complex, laborious process. "Numerous little parts make one bay, sai"d Bess. "It actually takes quite a bit, and that’s why we were out there practicing it."
Five U.S. Navy Seabees from Chinhae Naval Base in South Korea worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the Marines on the bridging exercise.
"It’s larger than any [MGB] I’ve ever put up in any class I had," said Builder 2nd Class Joseph Maioriello of Detail Chinhae, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3.
"You can only learn so much from a class or book. Just to be able to go out and put your hands on and do it, really makes the difference."