Work ethic sets Kentucky engineers apart overseas

By 1st Lt. Tyler Cope, 207th Engineer Company

Soldiers from the 207th Engineer Company take a group photo at Fort Bliss, Texas prior to their flight overseas Feb. 2, 2017. Soldiers of the 207th completed more than 30 construction projects in seven countries in support of U.S. Army Central Command. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Tyler Cope)

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Unique, different, distinctive. These three words are best used to describe the 207th Engineer Company’s mobilization. It began when the unit was notified during the summer of 2015 informing the Soldiers that we were mobilizing to Kuwait. While this is nothing out of the ordinary for an army that has been at the location for over 30 years, it was what they were tasked to do after that makes those three words so important.

The 207th deployed as “Over the Horizon Engineers,” to provide engineer support for all of the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility. While the 207th would be centrally located, they would perform construction operations throughout the theater with teams as small as five Soldiers, doing everything from providing new and renovated Force Protection measures, road and route repair, to building new Life Support Areas. Over the course of the deployment, the 207th Engineer Company would support every campaign that is currently being conducted in CENTCOM to include Operation Spartan Shield, Operation Freedom Sentinel, and Operation Inherent Resolve.

“As an engineer, we must be jacks of all trades. As Kentuckians, whether in or out of uniform, we exhibit a “never defeated” attitude in our work ethic,” said Capt. Brian Ladd, commander of the 207th. “This combination of flexibility and determination has provided us the tools required to be successful in this unique mission set.”

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The unit initially faced a unique challenge as they were tasked with taking all their equipment with them to Kuwait, which for a Horizontal Engineer Company consists of over 150 pieces of heavy engineer equipment including bulldozers, scrapers, graders, excavators, and much more bulky pieces of equipment. This was a collective effort as several departments across Kentucky supported the equipment preparations ensuring all vehicles and equipment were ready to mobilize and ultimately shipped to Kuwait. It was a multi-step process that included doing a technical inspection on all pieces that were spread across the state which involved three separate maintenance shops’ assistance to accomplish.  The collective efforts resulted in a widely successful operation which is a true testament to the Kentucky Army National Guard as a whole as it was the largest logistical movement in the state since 2004.

While the 207th’s equipment was being prepared to ship overseas, so were its Soldiers. Due to the technical nature and distinctive mission set that was put before them, the 207th had to train its lowest level leaders to be prepared to operate at the team level to execute and accomplish challenging and unique construction projects. To do this, the unit conducted two training periods at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in order to accomplish all the technical and tactical training that was required with a culminating validation event conducted at Fort Bliss, Texas. This event challenged each of the leaders’ technical and tactical knowledge and would ultimately prepare them for conducting construction operations with little-to-no material in austere environments. The 207th was able to successfully complete their validation and four Soldiers (Pfc. Shane Wilson, Spc. Jassmine Bunch, Spc. Kiley Vonlintel, and Sgt. Nathaniel Fugate) were recognized for their work efforts by the 5th Armor Brigade by awarding them with the Army Achievement Medal.

Once the 207th arrived at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, they instantly began working at a very high operational tempo. Several projects were assigned to them within days of hitting ground. The different missions included a number of tasks such as providing force protection measures, site drainage improvements, leveling, grading, and spreading gravel, dump truck haul ops, and many work order type missions requiring expert engineer assistance. These construction projects ranged from building brand new bases to rebuilding older bases where time and harsh conditions had begun to wear down the existing structures and force protection measures.

The 207th would go forth under the Over the Horizon (OTH) Engineers concept providing different engineer support in a variety of countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, United Arab of Emirates, Qatar, and many others. Some of these missions required Soldiers to fly OTH with their construction equipment in the same aircraft. The Soldiers had the opportunity to conduct operations with a number of different agencies including the 101st Airborne Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, numerous Special Operations teams, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy.

For a lot of the young leaders of the 207th, this was the chance of a lifetime to go out and execute the job they signed up to do. Sgt. Matthew Joseph stated that he enjoyed working with several coalition partners while completing his missions including different branches of the military, local nationals, and local armies. During this mobilization Joseph had a chance to operate in four countries.

For some in the 207th, like Spc. Tyler Reckner, this deployment was the first time he had been in a horizontal construction unit. Originally from the 2113th Transportation Company, Reckner volunteered for the deployment.

“In addition to the various countries we travelled to, I enjoyed working with the 215th Vertical Construction Company from the Puerto Rico National Guard during a construction mission in Qatar,” he said. “It was truly fascinating working with another company on one project as we became dependent on each other in order to complete the mission.”

For the majority of the Soldiers in the 207th, this was their first deployment and for them to have the prospect of visiting so many locations was thrilling, if not a little nerve wracking.

Ultimately, the 207th was able to successfully complete over 30 construction projects while they were deployed. Over all, the Soldiers of the 207th had the chance to work in seven different countries and on over 14 different installations throughout the CENTCOM area. While the vast majority of these projects were extremely challenging due to lack of materials, funding, and outdated equipment that was left in theater, the 207th was able to accomplish their mission despite the constraints. Their efforts culminated into performing horizontal construction totaling over $9.5 million in just eight months, making their mobilization truly unique, different, and distinctive from previous mobilizations of other construction units.

“This unit’s ability to handle even the toughest missions has set us apart from similar units in the theater,” said Ladd. “The lessons they have learned about construction management and dirt moving operations will prove invaluable as they take this experience back to Kentucky.