Bridging the gap: 7th ESB Marines train in Colorado River

Bridging the gap: 7th ESB Marines train in Colorado River

Marines with Bridge Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, operate Bridge Erection Boats as part of a rafting exercise on the Colorado River in Laughlin, Nev., March 17-21, 2014. More than 60 Marines trained in moving heavy equipment, to include 7-tons and Humvees, across a flowing body of water utilizing BEBs and an Improved Ribbon Bridge. Photo by LCpl Keenan Zelazoski.

LAUGHLIN, Nev. (March 25, 2014) – Metal scraped against dirt as a Rubber-Tired, Articulated-Steering, and Multipurpose Tractor [TRAM] broke down dirt barricades, granting more than 60 Marines with Bridge Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, access to the Colorado River after a 16-hour long convoy. This was just the beginning of a week-long training exercise to familiarize the Marines with crossing a flowing body of water while transporting heavy equipment. 

The Marines traveled 300 miles to Laughlin, Nev., for the opportunity to face the challenging current of the river, and put their training to the test.

"If we get deployed somewhere, and we need to cross a river, the bridge has been taken out and the other side is impassible, we can put equipment on the raft, move it up-river to an area that is passible, and maintain movement forward in an expeditionary environment," said GySgt Jeremy King, company first sergeant with Bridge Co., 7th ESB, 1st MLG.

Without this resource, moving equipment over rapid waters would be significantly more difficult. The ability to bridge equipment across water is a valuable asset for Marines as an amphibious fighting force.

"Part of our mission in Bridge Co. is to provide bridging capabilities for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force," said Capt. Jonathan Hudson, company commander, Bridge Co., 7th ESB, 1st MLG. "Part of that includes rafting. It wasn't easy to travel 300 miles to train out here, but we wanted a challenge … so it was definitely worth the trip."

As the Marines prepared to dive head first into the exercise, on rough waters, many had their doubts in how productive they would be in transporting gear up stream. 

"We did the bridge reconnaissance right after we arrived, and I'll admit I was a little skeptical," said Cpl. Anderson Krieger, raft commander with Bridge Co., 7th ESB, 1st MLG. "I didn't think we could ferry equipment against the current. We weren't used to operating in a current at all."

In the early stages of the exercise, the Marines driving the boats navigated the river, both with the current and against it, in order to get a feel for how they should be operating in the new environment.

"It was definitely a crawl, walk, run approach to the exercise," said King. "Safety is paramount when we are out here training on a public river."

As the days went on, the improved ribbon bridge, a multi-piece bridge that functions as a raft, was inserted into the river. The Colorado River's current moved at an average speed of five feet per second. This kind of momentum was a far cry from the relatively-calm conditions in the Del Mar boat basin where the Marines usually conduct this training. 

"Marines have to move significantly faster than they had to in a boat basin," said Krieger. "The current carries the equipment downstream until everyone is in position and pushing it upstream. When we work on a river with expensive civilian houses on the other side, the last thing we want is to be too slow and ruin one of their boat ramps by crashing a very heavy piece of equipment into their property."

The Marines went from not being sure what they could do against the current, to being confident that they could operate in even tougher conditions if they had to. Throughout the week, the Marines ferried a substantial amount of weight up the river. The Marines transported a Humvee, a TRAM, and two 7-tons, weighing approximately 60,000 pounds, in just three trips. 

"I couldn't ask for anything to go any better on the water, and that was the main challenge and focus of this training," said Hudson, a native of Lima, Ohio. "My Marines moved fast, did what they practiced, and this has been a huge success."

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