CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. – “It was a lot of driving,” said Spc. Marie Cheshareck, a horizontal construction engineer with the 661st Engineer Company, 766th Engineer Battalion, 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Illinois Army National Guard with a smile.

Three days prior, the 661st, along with several other units from the 766th Engineer Battalion, conducted a two-day convoy covering over 500 miles from their headquarters in Macomb, Illinois, to Camp Ripley.

“We’re horizontal construction engineers, but that basically means we’re heavy equipment operators,” explained Cheshareck. As a result, their convoy included over 25 vehicles carrying bulldozers, road graders, skid steers, forklifts, and loaders.

The Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers came to Camp Ripley to conduct two weeks of Annual Training. Like many National Guard and Reserve units, Annual Training gives Soldiers hands-on experiences they otherwise won’t typically find during their weekend unit training assemblies. For Cheshareck and her unit, time at Camp Ripley allows them to practice their marksmanship and implement their engineering knowledge. As an engineering project, they will be fixing, building, and constructing two miles of trails for tanks to better maneuver on base.

“The 631st [Engineer Company] and us, [the 661st Engineer Company], are each making one side of the tank trail and we’ll meet up in the middle,” explained Spc. Damian Coats, a horizontal construction engineer with the 661st Engineer Company, 766th Engineer Battalion, 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Illinois Army National Guard. There will be numerous roads and obstacles for the engineers to work around as they go.

Camp Ripley sits on 53,000 acres of land with numerous small arms ranges, tank ranges, maneuver training areas, and special operations training facilities. The base also contains 25 miles of Mississippi River shoreline along with numerous watersheds, bodies of water, and a variety of vegetation landscapes. The scale and diversity of the camp makes it an ideal environment for the horizontal construction engineers to utilize and test their skills.

“The nice thing about annual training is that it allows our Soldiers an opportunity to complete a job,” said Staff Sgt. Richard File, a horizontal construction supervisor with the 616th Engineering Utilities Detachment in the Illinois Army National Guard. “It gives them something to work toward. It’s nice to come to other guard units and show what we have to offer, our expertise and skills. As engineers, we get to build things that make a difference and will be there for years to come.”

However, before the engineers begin their engineering projects, they have other hands-on Soldier tasks to complete, including heading out to the ranges to practice their marksmanship.

“I’ve shot [an M249] before, but I have never zeroed one, so that was a little bit different,” said Coats. “We zeroed with five magazines but only one round per magazine. As a fully automatic weapon, it is very easy to accidentally burst it, so they gave us just one round at a time so we can zero our weapons a lot easier.”

While a typical weekend unit training assembly consists of just two, eight-hour days, Annual Training gives units at least 14 days of both day and night possibilities – ample time for units to familiarize, zero, and qualify with their weapons as well as complete various horizontal construction engineering projects.

The Army recently implemented a new combat-focused qualification table for the M4 weapon that has Soldiers shooting from a variety of firing positions, including standing, kneeling, and prone.

“A lot of Soldiers haven’t run through the new tables yet, so [it’s great] just getting up here, exposed to the new tables, and allowing them to get more comfortable firing,” said File.

“It’s different, but I think it’s fun,” said Cheshareck. “I’m happy just being at the range and actually shooting.”

In the end, Annual Training gives thousands of Guard and Reserve Soldiers an extended amount of time, while Camp Ripley’s diverse environment and abundance of resources provides opportunities for Soldiers to get hands-on training, learn new skills, and hone their old ones.

Date Taken: 07.12.2022
Date Posted: 07.14.2022 20:26
Story ID: 425014
Location: CAMP RIPLEY, MN, US 

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