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Engineers support U.S. Border Patrol.

The Soldiers of 1st Platoon, 68th Engineer Company, 62d Engineer Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas, were tasked with completing several spans of road construction and making improvements to multiple low-water crossings to support Joint Task Force North and the U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas. This project increased freedom of movement for U.S. Border Patrol agents and enhanced their safety and ability to patrol the southern U.S. border. Before the platoon's deployment, the unit experienced months of training challenges, logistical hurdles, and coordination requirements among five government agencies. The platoon developed effective systems of construction project management and combined them with proven Army standard operating procedures to establish the foundation of the ultimate success of the project.

Although the scope of the project was not finalized at the time, the platoon leader first formulated an extensive list of requests for information, created an initial schedule based on the project drawings, and developed a training plan to prepare the Soldiers for the mission. The training plan evolved into three field training exercises (FTXs) that mimicked the standard crawl-walk-run model for Soldier skills training. Each FTX built on the level of training that was conducted at the preceding exercise and culminated in FTX III, a scenario-based event that included full-dress rehearsals of battle drills and several unexpected medical tasks to test the platoon casualty and medical evacuation procedures. The FTXs proved to be crucial and effective train-up tools and significantly reduced the learning curve when the platoon arrived on-site.

During project planning, the low-water crossing sites were the main priority. They were vital to the U.S. Border Patrol and gave agents freedom of movement to gain access to high-activity areas. The crossings became restricted for extended periods of time following heavy rain. To increase maneuverability at those locations, site designs employed sections of articulated concrete matting (ACM), which served as a drivable surface and an erosion control measure. This design presented a unique challenge since sections of the matting were not readily available for training. Platoon leaders contacted representatives from the ACM manufacturer, who provided classroom training on the installation and capabilities of the ACM system. This training vastly increased the overall quality of installation on the project sites.

As the unit approached deployment, the focus shifted from construction equipment familiarization and battle drill rehearsals to safety. The platoon received the after action reviews and lessons learned from previous construction missions supporting Joint Task Force North and quickly realized that the project had a high potential for accidents. As a result, platoon leaders developed and implemented stringent standards for safety and challenged the platoon Soldiers to earn the Joint Task Force North safety award, which is presented to units that complete projects with no construction safety-related accidents. Battalion leaders aided this effort by adding a mission commander to focus on the overall project and an officer in charge to focus on construction. The battalion also reinforced the platoon with Soldiers from the 63d Survey and Design Detachment to aid on-site quality assurance and quality control. Throughout the deployment, before the start of each training event and daily construction, the safety noncommissioned officer used online sites such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Toolbox Talks to develop briefings related to the equipment being used and environmental conditions present. (1) Each 15-minute briefing was part of the daily mission brief that addressed operator and leader checks, and the briefings fostered an atmosphere that placed safety first on the project site.

The platoon arrived at the project site in mid-May 2014 and quickly established systems and operating procedures with assistance from the departing unit. The first days of the project focused on medical drills, equipment familiarization, and briefings by site supervisors about construction plans. During the project, the platoon encountered civilian engineer equipment that was similar to equipment used at the home station, but Soldiers required familiarization training and licensing before construction could begin. Civilian equipment experts assisted operators with familiarization training during the first week. The efforts and expertise of the civilian operators greatly reduced the learning curve and helped Soldiers gain confidence on the equipment before the start of construction.

The initial construction efforts were twofold: Soldiers at the first project site prepared to receive more than 300 linear feet of ACM as clearing and grubbing at the designated stations of road construction began at the second site. At both sites, the ACM required tolerances of less than 1/2 inch for the sections of mat to align properly. The global positioning system from the 63d Survey and Design Detachment served as a vital resource in verifying the elevation and slope of the road sections. Soldiers obtained the appropriate roadway width calculations to ensure continuity between each mat section. In addition to validating the slopes, elevations, and roadway edges, construction efforts focused on achieving U.S. Army Corps of Engineers compaction specifications. The specifications required the appropriate amount of water content for each soil type, which was attained by using a 12,000-gallon, quick-fill water tower that reduced fill times by almost 90 percent.

The matting installation proved to be the least challenging activity of the project. With expert advice from the on-site manufacturer's representative, installation was completed in less than 2 days. Progress at the road construction sites continued as scheduled until the team got closer to the border at the Rio Grande River. Proctor compaction tests determined that the soil in these areas had a relatively high density and would prove difficult or impossible to compact. As clearing and grubbing operations commenced, operators unearthed soil conditions that confirmed these challenges. Since the soil would not meet design specifications, it would need to be excavated and backfilled with suitable material. The team developed plans to address the massive amounts of material it would need to replace. Since the bill of materials contracted for the project had already been expanded to cover an existing shortage in material, the placement of the unsatisfactory soil would need to be achieved through other means.

Our team located suitable material farther away from the Rio Grande River, where it could be quickly harvested and replaced with the unsuitable material that had to be removed from the jobsite. After receiving approval, operators excavated and replaced more than 6,000 tons of material. Site supervisors minimized the wastage of material to increase efficiency. These techniques were developed and incorporated from lessons learned during earlier portions of the project and enabled the site supervisors and operators to overcome the obstacles encountered during the final weeks.

The experience gained and lessons learned from the project were invaluable to the development of all levels of leadership and will contribute to the success of future company operations. The platoon leaders and site supervisors sharpened their project management skills and discovered effective methods of mission command. Noncommissioned officers skillfully developed systems to streamline material management and overall construction logistics and instituted procedures to verify completed construction work. Soldiers logged thousands of hours of operating time on multiple pieces of engineer equipment. Despite the logistical challenges and setbacks caused by material shortages and unforeseen obstacles, the platoon embraced the real-world impact of their efforts and demonstrated resilience by completing the full scope of work.

This mission was extremely valuable training to the 68th Engineer Company and 62d Engineer Battalion. The battalion gained experience in deploying a construction element on a high-profile construction mission. Company leaders gained valuable experience in construction management and road building, which are two vital tasks from the mission-essential task list. The keys to mission success were the decision to augment the platoon to enhance mission command and the planning conducted at the company level. The decision was made to assign the company commander to the mission and add surveyors to help with quality assurance and quality control. The addition of the company commander allowed the platoon leaders to focus on construction operations while the commander handled logistics and coordinated stakeholders. The 68th Engineer Company developed a sound training strategy that involved progressively more complex training events. The leaders researched ACM construction and reached out to the manufacturer for additional training. The company also rehearsed the deployment, onsite preparation, and actual construction. During construction, the company conducted daily hot washes that allowed the company to learn and grow. The company incorporated lessons learned and improved throughout the project. As a result, the platoon completed the project on time and to standard with no construction safety-related accidents.

Mission success would not have been possible without the mentorship of Joint Task Force North mission planners, who provided tremendous logistics support and project oversight.


(1) OSHA, "Free Toolbox Talks," <>, accessed on 13 August 2014.

Captain Griffith is the commander of the 68th Engineer Company, Fort Hood. He holds a bachelor's degree in management and engineering administration from Park University and a master's degree in engineer management from Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla.

First Lieutenant Zimmerly is a platoon leader for the 68th Engineer Company. He holds a bachelor's degree in construction management from Bradley University.
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Author:Griffith, Ian S.; Zimmerly, Nathaniel D.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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