HOHENFELS, Germany — A second wave of soldiers from the 133rd Engineer Battalion of the Maine Army National Guard has begun work at a multinational training center in Hohenfels, Germany.
The unit is conducting one of several training sessions to prepare for its deployment to Iraq in January 2010.
The 133rd Engineer Battalion is on the ground in Germany with soldiers from the 1035th Survey and Design Company from Gardiner, the 136th Engineer Company from Lewiston and Skowhegan, the 262nd Engineer Company from Westbrook and Belfast, and the Forward Support Company stationed in Portland.
The companies have merged to form Task Force Construction and Task Force Support, simulating the structure the battalion will take while deployed to Iraq to work on two types of projects.
The “horizontal” project, staffed by soldiers of the 262nd, consists of improving two roads used to train coalition forces from around the world on improvised explosive devices and convoy security operations.
Sgt. 1st Class Terry Sprague, who joined the active duty Army in 1971 and has years of knowledge to share with the soldiers of his unit, said the level of engineering experience even since his last tour in 2004 has decreased significantly.
“Many of the people I deployed with before have retired; the average age now is about 31, whereas the previous age averaged about 45,” he said.
Sprague said some of the younger inexperienced soldiers are getting very good hands-on training by operating heavy equipment such as graders, bulldozers, rollers, dump trucks and bucket loaders.
The “vertical” building project, staffed by soldiers of the 136th, will staff an area built to resemble a small Iraqi village. The mission of the 136th is to expand the village and construct three additional concrete block buildings. Some buildings were started by the first rotation of 133rd soldiers and others are being constructed from the foundation up.
“Most of our younger soldiers are laying block for the first time since coming back from their training school,” said Staff Sgt. Douglas Chabot, leader of the project. “These blocks are 20 pounds heavier than back home and have interlocking joints, so mortar is not needed between the vertical joints.
“I’ve been in the National Guard since 1985 and this is some of the best training we have ever had. It’s a great project because you start with nothing and then see the progression; it’s nice for soldiers to see their accomplishment.”