In mid-May, combat engineers from multiple units of the 168th Engineer Brigade collaborated in a range expansion to clear approximately one acre of pine trees at the Air National Guard's Rattlesnake Range. The Air National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center (ANG CRTC) operates the air-to-ground range in Perry County.
"This is the first time we've been able to transition from strictly a desert training environment to offer a woodland training ground," said Lt. Col. Eddie Knox, Range Control Officer.
The newly cleared one-acre target site is surrounded by a thick forest. Combat aviators will receive a type of training not previously available at the range.
"It gives pilots an opportunity to go after targets that are more challenging to discern. This effort is critical for the growth of fifth-generation and tactical aircraft pilots and to accomplish the required training they need before deployment," said Knox.
The 288th Engineer Company (Houston, Miss.) of the 223rd Engineer Battalion and the 287th Engineer Company (Wiggins, Miss.) of the 890th Engineer Battalion made up the demolition team. Soldiers used Composition C-4 to knock down the standing timber. Using various formulas, the teams calculated the right amount of explosive needed for each tree and designated the direction in which the trees would fall.
"To take down 40 trees with chainsaws, it would take us an hour and a half. Using explosives, we can take down 20 trees in one blow," said 2nd Lt. Donald Lorbecke, 288th Engineer Company (Sapper). "The process is pretty simple with explosives."
The blasts separates the trees at the stumps which can then be removed. The 168th Engineer Brigade Commander, Col. Kelvin Nichols, welcomed the opportunity for his Soldiers to fine tune their skills.
"It's a big training opportunity because as National Guardsmen, you don't get much of an opportunity to explore this skill set," said Nichols. "The whole goal is always making sure we get. The fact is we are doing something that is really going to make a difference because the Air Force can use this for their training. It's perfect for Solders to see this."
The Mississippi Forest Service is also part of the collaboration. The project benefits the agency by helping to maintain fire breaks.
"The thing that makes this project so great is we are using an interagency cooperative agreement where all stakeholders have something to gain with little cost to the taxpayer," Knox said.
Mississippi National Guard leaders say hands-on training in timber demolitions skills and chainsaw operations is vital to domestic natural disaster response missions.