The sand dunes along the Missouri River south of Elk Point are helping the 153rd Engineering Battalion of the South Dakota Army National Guard stay in fighting shape.
Around 240 service members are living in tents at the Austin Training Area south of Elk Point. The group includes more than just engineers – there are medics, cooks and a maintenance crew. They brought nearly 60 vehicles to help in their training.
The camp is mostly self-sufficient, having complete supplies of food, fuel and equipment. Only water needed to be brought in daily.
The entire camp was set up in about four hours; however, a group of soldiers spent about a week ahead of time cleaning up the area and grading roads.
Major Joshua Lien said one advantage of Austin is it’s an area these soldiers have never been to before; their training is more effective in unknown territory. They can practice digging fortifications at Austin, something they can’t do at Custer. And it’s only four hours from headquarters in Huron, another big plus.
Major Lien said the 153rd usually tries to train for two weeks, but that was cut short this year. They had to use one of those weeks getting prepared for the exercises, something they would normally do ahead of time, but could not this year because of the pandemic.
This equipment was lined up next to a corn field, waiting to be deployed. The four rounded units in the center are Heavy Dry Span Bridges (HDSB). They open in the middle and fold out to create the bridge. Although some years the bridge was built to span the river, this year six units were combined to use as a ferry.
At the left end is one of the boats that can push the HDSB when it’s used as a ferry. At the right end is a float bay. All this equipment is part of the 200th Multi Role Bridge Company.
This area along the Missouri River is where soldiers launched six Heavy Dry Span Bridges.
This squad listens to instructions from its Staff Sergeant before starting on a squad lane, a situational training exercise that tests the soldiers’ preparedness. They had to negotiate a series of obstacles along the course, which included trip wires and an ambush by an opposing force.
Lt. Flood had a wealth of information about Guard activities and installation. Sgt. Freideman never flinched driving his Humvee through the deep sand around the river, even when passing a troop vehicle that was stuck in sand up past its axles.