Wisconsin Army National Guard units continued construction on the Mosinee Athletic Complex — classified as an innovative readiness training project — July 17 for the third year as part of their annual training.
The 229th Engineer Company and part of the 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion enhanced their horizontal engineering skills on a baseball field and other green space as part of a partnership with the Mosinee Community Athletic Association set to last through 2020.
Steve Kaiser, director of buildings and grounds in Mosinee, surmises that locals seeing Soldiers’ involvement in this project promotes interest and participation within the community, leading to a cycle of revenue generation and population growth.
“People move to a place, they want to see nice things,” Kaiser said. “They’re not going to move into a place that has poor facilities. You want to have things that people are drawn to.”
Unit leadership praised opportunities presented by this year’s operations. Previously, construction had been split into two training periods, one in June and one in August, with leadership and manpower divided. This year, the entire unit was on site, allowing for an optimum use of resources.
“It’s really cool to see it all come together, and you can watch the progression,” said 1st Lt. Josh Steadman, executive officer of the 229th and officer-in-charge of the project.
Steadman emphasized the opportunity presented to junior noncommissioned officers, requiring them to coordinate with each other and effectively manage manpower and resources. For many of these junior noncommissioned officers, this project was their first time in such a position.
The entire project was broken into smaller job sites, such as creating a road connecting the complex to Highway 53, creating retention ponds, filling prior borrow pits, cutting a drainage ditch, and creating a second baseball diamond at the proper elevation.
“With this project being as big as it is, it really lets us train on the full range of our capabilities,” 2nd Lt. Ryan Brick, assistant officer in charge of the project, observed. Those capabilities include operating a host of heavy equipment as well as a variety of construction techniques such as cutting, filling, and grading. While not actively participating in construction, Soldiers would train on the operation and maintenance of each type of vehicle assigned to the unit.
“We have a lot of iron, that’s for sure, and to have an area to work it is rare,” said Sgt. 1st Class Casey Beyersdorf, noncommissioned officer in charge of construction. “And to be in one spot at one time is rare.”
For home station drilling much of the year, the 229th is split between armories in Prairie du Chien and Platteville.
All leaders involved agreed this type of project offers a different motivation for the Soldiers than typical annual training periods, where engineer units move earth and then move it back again when they complete their training.
“When you just do something to fill it back in, although it’s doing the same thing, there’s not the same motivation to do that because you know there’s no actual use of it afterwards,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Hanson, commander of the 724th Engineer Battalion. “The knowing that what you’re doing is actually going to have some real-world applicability after that.”
“For these guys to go home and show the pictures to their buddies, girlfriends, wives and kids, and say, ‘Hey, look what we did for us, for another community in our state, for our neighbors’ — it helps their morale, it helps our retention astronomically,” Steadman said. “It’s so much better than just digging a hole and filling it back in.”
The scope and nature of this project and the training opportunities it presents also makes the units more ready to fulfil both of its roles as the primary combat reserve of the United States Army and the first military responder in the homeland.
During the project, Soldiers live in a tent city at the edge of the grounds. These amenities resemble the austere operating environment Soldiers may experience while deployed.
“When you’re doing project sites on this side of the pond, it’s difficult to force people to realize that you may not be able to get fuel every day, you may not be able to get supplies every day,” Hanson said. He added that leaders may need to self-impose these limits to get used to anticipating needs weeks to months ahead of time.
Wisconsin National Guard troops were involved with the State Active Duty mission last year in response to heavy flooding in northern Wisconsin. As a horizontal engineer unit, the 229th was responsible for making temporary repairs to damaged town and county roads, restoring travel until the state Department of Transportation could complete permanent repairs.
The Wisconsin National Guard will be involved with this project through 2020. The 173rd will take over the majority of operations next year. Future work at the complex may include a concession stand.