The Michigan Army National Guard’s 1437th Engineer Company is based in Sault Ste. Marie in the state’s Upper Peninsula. The 1437th is a multi-role bridge company and the only military unit in the state that has the bridge crew member military occupation skill. The unit’s authorized strength is 181 and it currently maintains an assigned strength of 131 personnel.
The 1437th mission is to provide personnel and equipment to transport, assemble, disassemble, retrieve and maintain all standard and nonstandard U.S. Army bridging systems for wet or dry gap-crossings.
In June 2015, the unit demonstrated a portion of their capabilities with equipment on display at the Sault Ste. Marie Armory and with an Improved Float Bridge (ribbon bridge) they constructed on the St. Marys River which runs into the Soo Locks between Lake Huron and Lake Superior.
The engineers hauled sections of the ribbon bridge to the river with the unit’s M1977 Common Bridge Transporter heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks. The M1977 HEMTTs are equipped with a hoist and can lower and extract the sections in and out of the water.
Staff Sgt. Heather Dake, a senior boat operator and bridge crew member, said the rafting demonstration caused a few challenges due to the calm water.
“The still water makes it difficult because there is no current,” said Dake. “If we were on the Mississippi River, it would make it easier.”
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Proulx, the unit’s acting first sergeant, explained that current in the water assists with the operation.
“When the water is moving, the bridge erection boat operators can direct their boats and position them in a way that helps the bridge bays to stay against the boats, which are used to navigate the bays into place,” said Proulx.
The 1437th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company has the largest rolling stock in the Michigan National Guard and includes Common Bridge Transporter trucks, HEMTTs and heavy equipment such as cranes and armored bulldozers which are used to prepare the sites. The unit also has a number of 500-hp MK-II Bridge Erection Boats, improved ribbon bridges and dry span bridges.
The 1437th member’s job specialties are bridge crew members, mechanics, supply personnel, heavy equipment operators, welders and communications specialists.
Since the Global War on Terrorism began, the unit has deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2003, all but a small rear detachment mobilized to Iraq. The 1437th deployed Soldiers served in a transportation role for U.S. Marines. Though the majority of their mission was transportation, the 1437th also worked with Navy Seabees in Az Zubaydiyah, Iraq to replace a bridge over the Tigris River that had been destroyed during the U.S. and their ally’s show of force at the beginning of the conflict.
In 2009, the 1437th mobilized to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and deployed again to Iraq to support OIF. The company completed more than 50 combat patrols, logging more than 10,000 incident-free miles in Caiman mine resistant ambush protected gun-trucks and up-armored HEMTTs throughout Iraq, maintaining and repairing both military and non-standard bridges. The company was in theater less than two weeks when they were ordered to execute the complex removal of a 324-meter Mabey-Johnson Logistical Support Float Bridge located at Al Habbaniyah spanning the Euphrates River.
“During this mission, Soldiers lived and worked on-site with minimal life support and under the constant threat of attack while maintaining an impressive 24 hour-a-day work schedule, enabling the bridge to be removed 14 days ahead of schedule,” said Proulx. “Soldiers completed much needed re-decking and repair of the 61-meter Triple Standard Mabey-Johnson Logistical Support Bridge at Hamadi which ensured military and civilian mobility in this region.”
Proulx said that the 1437th also planned and executed the construction of two additional complete bridge spans: a Jago bridge at forward operating base Kalsu and a logistical float bridge at Salman Pak near Baghdad. During the building of each bridge the company faced extreme weather conditions including torrential rain, heat in excess of 130 degrees, sand storms and high winds.
For annual training, the engineers have traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Camp Ripley, Minnesota; and Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center. At Camp Ripley, the engineers can rehearse their bridge building capabilities on the Mississippi River.
“During last year’s annual training, we were the first unit to span the Mississippi River utilizing overhead anchorage,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ann Dailey, the full-time readiness noncommissioned officer and a member of the unit for 18 years.
The overhead anchorage involves a cable that runs alongside the bridge and is supported by anchored towers on both sides of the river.
At Camp Grayling, the 1437th trains with the dry-span bridge, which is used to span a ravine or other type of gap that does not involve direct contact with water.
Annually, engineers with the 1437th work on basic combat engineer tasks while not engaged in bridging. Training includes demolitions, along with a host of other items that support the Army engineer’s role in providing mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability functions to the force.
Over the past several years, engineers with the 1437th have provided doctrinal engineering support on a number of short duration missions in Latvia and Liberia through Michigan’s State Partnership Program, as well as the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and operational support in Guatemala and at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany.
At the armory, there are models of various bridges on display that were built by Staff Sgt. Adam Orazietti, the full-time training NCO. The bridge models serve as training aids for the Soldiers.
“The 1437th Multi-Role Bridge Company is truly unlike any other company in the state, boasting incredible equipment,” said Company Commander Capt. Alek Willson who has served with the 1437th for more than a decade as an enlisted and commissioned Soldier. “The Soldiers of this unit have unrivaled opportunities to operate amazing equipment and gain unique skills that benefit their civilian careers as well as their military occupation.”
Willson has also deployed twice with the unit and has an up-close perspective of 1437th Soldiers.
“I have witnessed the courageous, resilient and selfless Soldiers of this company perform amazing feats of engineering in peaceful and extremely dangerous places all over the world, time and time again,” he said. “This unit has a long, proud, tried and true tradition of accomplishing missions that other units deem impossible and it is a distinct honor and a rare privilege to command this company and to have been a part of it for so long.”