By Maj. Margaret Ziffer
105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Training facilities at the Smoky Hill Weapons Range, Great Plains Joint Training Center, are being enhanced with the addition of a new physical fitness field and irrigation pond, courtesy of the 242nd Engineer Company out of Coffeyville. After a last minute change in training plans, the horizontal construction engineers have wasted no time diving in to complete a project that will ultimately increase readiness for units across the state.
The idea to build a physical fitness training field originated only recently when range personnel at GPJTC observed a unit conducting pre-mobilization training.
A bulldozer operated by engineers of the 242nd Engineer Company out of Coffeyville, Kansas, transforms a once-empty site into a new physical fitness training field and irrigation pond at the Great Plains Joint Training Center in Salina July 20.
“We watched them and they were essentially doing PT anywhere they could,” said Capt. Hans Stephensen, range officer-in-charge. “We realized that we had a need for a PT field out here.”
Stephensen said that realization generated a conversation about picking a site, and the team agreed on an empty space near the range control headquarters that wasn’t being utilized. Selecting the site may have been easy, but then the team became aware of some other challenges they needed to address.
“It was pointed out to us that the site needed to be leveled and we didn’t have enough dirt,” Stephensen said. “Also, we aren’t allowed to use metered water to water it, so we would have to have our own water source.”
After discussing options, GPJTC staff realized that digging a pond would solve both the dirt problem and the water problem, since the pond could be used to irrigate the new field. All they needed was a unit to make it happen. When the 242nd Eng. Co. called searching for last minute training opportunities because their original annual training plan fell through due to COVID-19, it was a perfect fit.
“We asked them what their training objectives were,” Stephensen said. “They asked to do some earth moving projects, so that made us expedite the PT field project. Originally we were looking at a longer timeline, but we saw that there was a great opportunity to seize this as both a training objective for them, as well as accomplishing a major objective for us in providing another training facility and venue for the units that come out here.”
Once they gained all the proper approvals, GPJTC gave the 242nd the green light to get started.
“We came to it with open arms,” said Staff Sgt. Derek Redenius, operations non-commissioned officer for the job site and acting platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon. “We took every piece of equipment we had, supplied all of our Soldiers and made it happen.”
The 242nd equipment inventory included scrapers, dozers, graders and dump trucks. In addition to the PT field, the engineers are also using their time at the GPJTC to complete other heavy construction work, like culvert projects and road maintenance.
“The experience has been great,” Redenius said. “For the last three years or so we’ve done more combat missions than we have construction engineer missions. So for young Soldiers it has been kind of tough for them to learn their jobs as engineers because we’ve been doing more combat type training. With this job, we get to run our equipment and get young Soldiers licensed.”
Redenius said the Soldiers have been enthusiastic about the work, which has been rewarding for him to see.
“My favorite part about being out here has been getting the young Soldiers time in their equipment and seeing the morale raise,” Redenius said. “We give them the chance to stop after dinner chow, and everybody has wanted to come back out and continue until dark.”
Looking ahead, Stephensen said the PT field could potentially be used to conduct the new Army Combat Fitness Test. And in the meantime, GPJTC will be home to a new space open to any unit to facilitate all types of physical fitness training. It will be a space Kansas Guardsmen can call their own.
When combined with all the other facilities at GPJTC, the completion of this project will allow units to increase training efficiency and readiness by having access to everything they need, all in one location.
“The addition of this facility will allow the range complex out here to host not only the ACFT, which is a major training event, but also Soldier Readiness Programs and weapons qualifications,” said Stephensen. “What we want is for units to want to train here and be able to complete everything all in one drill weekend. That would help save commanders training time by not having to break those events up into three separate weekends.”