Doing what Engineers do best: bridging

Lance Corporal Hylands at PB Clifton

Lance Corporal Hylands at PB Clifton

LCpl James Hylands (39), from Shaw, Oldham is a TA soldier who is currently serving with 8 Troop, 73 Armoured Engineer Squadron (AES) on Operation HERRICK 17.  He deployed along with the rest of 21 Engineer Regiment (21 Engr Regt) as part of Task Force Helmand Engineer Group, at the beginning of September 2012. Whilst on tour the squadron is known as Engineer Close Support Squadron 1, which covers the northern areas of operation of Task Force Helmand (TFH).

Teaming-up to learn

With 8 troop’s recent achievements with the single story bridging task (Medium Girder 40-tonne load bridge) near Patrol Base (PB) Clifton, the next job to be tasked for us would be a bigger assignment, this time teaming up with our colleagues from 9 troop at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ouelette.

Planned in for just over a week, the rehearsal stage required our team to travel there via Camp Bastion to practice and learn a new type bridge as quickly as possible. This time it was a double story MGB (Medium Girder Bridge capable of withstanding 70-tonne loads) with 10 bays (number of bays denotes the span it needs to span over a crossing).

FOB Ouelette is located further north along the green zone from us, following the Helmand River. It falls under a different operating area,  ours being Nahr-e Seraj, it being Coalition Force Burma, which was originally part of the Sangin Valley district.  Out of all the areas, 73 Armoured Engineer Squadron (AES) are operating in theatre FOB Ouelette is renowned as being the most kinetic and certainly has a large insurgent presence in its area, hence it has to treated with caution and vigilance.  Upon arrival, you notice this difference straight away. Up to late September this year there has been no significant attacks, but the cautious presence is still maintained.

Nine troop lads have been really busy in this place in the past couple of months shutting down PBs and Check Points (CPs) within the area, constantly working out on the ground, sometimes under small arms attack; whilst performing their daily tasks.  Everyone seems to have a different story to tell, but they have genuinely enjoyed being there and have worked strong as a team, which was evident to me instantly.

The accommodation and work area was a good little set up (it must be an engineer thing) housed in its own little gated yard, with heated tents, ISO containers doubling up as offices and a 12ft x12ft  tent acting as a welfare room; complete with TV and PlayStation.  Some of us were located in this accommodation with them, the others in the empty Hesco Accommodation Bunkers located around camp.

The purpose of our stay was to practice the build and deconstruct of a double story MGB as quickly as possible, working as a mixed 26-man team, in order that we could provide vehicle access bridges to cross a nearby canal obtaining access into a local town – should it be required.

Pairing off into three sections left, right and centre of bridge, we practiced constructing and dismantling the structure until everyone could complete the task with their eyes shut.  All the guys now are fully up to speed with what is required of us and everyone knows the role they could play in any forthcoming operations.

Having now returned to PB Clifton we await any instructions to return to FOB Ouelette to complete the bridging tasks should it be required.

Elements of the Medium Girder Bridge

Elements of the Medium Girder Bridge

Lesson on the Medium Girder Bridge

Lesson on the Medium Girder Bridge

Getting stuck into a practice build

Getting stuck into a practice build

Read about James here: Lance Corporal James Hyland

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