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Engineers practice building Bailey bridges

Spec. Nicolas Klimacek, 56th Engineer Company, walks up to a sway brace that’s laying on the ground. A sway brace is an X-shaped turnbuckle assembly that is used to keep the sections square and rigid.
Pvt. Adam Beard drives a six-pound pin into place. Each panel is secured by four steel pins, and each section gets at least two panels per side.
Pvt. Adam Beard drives a six-pound pin into place. Each panel is secured by four steel pins, and each section gets at least two panels per side.
Soldiers lift a transom into place. Once it’s lined up, it will be clamped to the panels.
Soldiers lift a transom into place. Once it’s lined up, it will be clamped to the panels.
Spec. Nicolas Klimacek, 56th Engineer Company, walks up to a sway brace that’s laying on the ground. A sway brace is an X-shaped turnbuckle assembly that is used to keep the sections square and rigid.

It’s World War II technology that’s older than the grandparents of many of the Soldiers who will assemble it. 

Instructors from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., came up earlier this month to teach a class in the assembly of the M2 Bailey Bridge, named after its inventor Sir Donald Bailey.

The area resembled an organized scrap yard more than a bridge-building area. Pieces of metal were stacked everywhere – large, heavy and slightly rusty.

Without a crane in sight, a group of Soldiers from the 6th Engineer Battalion and workers from the Alaska Department of Transportation had to heft each piece into place using nothing but their good physical condition and youth.

The side panels each weigh about 570 pounds, requiring a six-man lift. The transoms, large steel I-beams installed horizontally beneath the deck, each required eight people lifting. The entire operation was completed by hand.

That’s one of the major purposes of the Bailey bridge – the components are supposed to be trucked up to the crossing, but every piece is designed to be hand portable and easily installed by Soldiers in combat environments.  Its ease of installation also makes it ideal for emergencies, which is why Alaska’s Department of Transportation owns some.

The damage to Alaska's bridges during the 1964 earthquake was extensive, especially on the Kenai Peninsula. 

One Bailey bridge was airlifted from Elmendorf Air Force Base to Soldotna in C-119's, C-123's and a C-124.  According to the Air Mobility Command, it took 60 sorties over five days to fly the 520,000-pound bridge – but it could be flown.

"We always have emergencies of some kind (or) like this," said Earl Ratliff, Fairbanks Northern Region bridge maintenance. "I just think (the training) was a good deal... we have these things stacked in our yard in Fairbanks too, but we never have the time to do it. This exercise with the military gave us the time and the opportunity.

“The people who came up from Fort Leonard Wood are just really sharp, and this is what they do – we could've figured it out eventually looking the book... a lot of times it's better to hear an answer live," Ratliff continued.

Hearing answers from experts and having the ability to tap into their experiences allowed the participants to get tailored information.

"The most difficult part is site preparation. If the site's not properly laid out, you're going to have a lot of problems when you actually try to launch the bridge across – you'll have stuff binding,” said Sgt. Daniel Schwab, 56th Engineer Company site noncommissioned officer in charge. “Another big key is the site layout. If you try to take shortcuts you'll screw yourself over in the end.  You'll have a bad bridge build or someone's going to end up getting hurt."

Pvt. Adam Beard said he never thought he’d build bridges in the Army.

“(It was) a lot more complex than I thought it’d be,” Beard said. “I thought cranes would bring in large pieces and we would just connect them. I had no idea they were smaller pieces all put together one at a time.”