Salty sea dogs bridge the gap

by Pfc. Jamin Powell
3rd Marine Logistics Group

NAHA MILITARY PORT, OKINAWA, Japan - On a dark, cloud-covered morning, Marines climbed into a small, green, metal boat to maneuver huge, metal cylinders floating in a quiet harbor. As they slid into the water, they began the first salt water training exercise Bridge Company has done since being reactivated.

Marines with Bridge Co., 9th Engineer Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, conducted training with Improved Ribbon Bridges (IRB) and Bridge Erection Boats (BEB) at Naha Military Port, Okinawa, Japan Jan. 31, 2018. IRBs are floating bridge systems designed to move large equipment across water, while BEBs provide propulsion, maneuvering thrust and anchoring to the IRBs. This training evolution taught the combat engineers with Bridge Co. about the bridge system and showed the capabilities of the reactivated company.

“This is the first time Bridge Co. has operated in the field,” said Capt. Martin Meehan, company commander, Bridge Co., 9th ESB. “In the past, it was a small bridging detachment that was a part of Bravo Co., 9th ESB.”

Bridge Co. was reactivated as a company on Oct. 1, 2017. Since the reactivation, they have been practicing and studying tactics, techniques and procedures to develop a standard operating procedure to follow during salt water operations.

“We’re learning a lot, making mistakes, learning from them and better developing how this company is going to function in the future,” Meehan said.

The IRB system comes in separate pieces, called “bays,” that can be connected to create a continuous-span bridge, or joined together to create a “raft”. The rafts are used extensively in the U.S. by 7th ESB and 8th ESB to move tanks and very large loads across bodies of fresh water. The training Bridge Co. did with the IRB system will provide the capability to move troops and equipment over ocean areas close to shore.

“With any wet area we would need to cross, we could do a continuous span with the IRB across the gap to get as many Marines and vehicles across the gap as possible,” said Cpl. Collin Blecha, raft commander, Bridge Co., 9th ESB.

Meehan said, this is the first time this training has been conducted at Naha Military Port. Similar training has been done on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, but this is the first training of its kind conducted in salt water or this close to public areas.

“The facilitators of this training were a huge help; Military Sealift Command, U.S. Army Garrison Okinawa and 835th Transportation Battalion were gracious enough to let us use their facilities so we can further our training in this capability,” Meehan said. “Coming down to Naha Military Port was a great opportunity and we really hope we get to do it again in the future.”

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