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Construction engineers with Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB) transformed a barren training area into a working forward operating base (FOB) during training on Fort McCoy’s North Post.

The Soldiers, from the 32nd BSTB’s Company A in Onalaska, Wisconsin, used various pieces of earth-moving equipment, and a bit of hard work, to transform Training Area 397 to a FOB complete with a main entrance area and defensive fighting positions.

Prior to the construction of the FOB, the Soldiers prepared a detailed scale model of what they wanted to build, taking into consideration what needed to be done to ensure the base had the proper 360-degree security coverage. Factors such as vehicle parking, operations and billeting tent placement were also built into the design.

“In building a FOB, you have to know how it should be constructed and what you need to do the construction. Here, we were able to hone our skills while at the same time maintain our proficiency in all the equipment we use,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Ashby, equipment section sergeant and horizontal construction engineer with the 32nd BSTB. Horizontal construction falls under the Army’s 12N military occupational specialty.

“Being able to train in these conditions helps our Soldiers become more tactically proficient in building a FOB wherever we may go in the world, such as an austere, combat environment,” Ashby said.

To build the FOB, the squad-sized group of Soldiers used plenty of heavy-duty equipment, to include a bulldozer as well as a High-Mobility Engineer Excavator (HMEE).

The HMEE is a backhoe loader that carries a two-man crew. It was developed specifically for the U.S. military to replace its small-emplacement excavator, according to manufacturer J.C. Bamford Excavators Limited. The HMEE can be used to clear roads, lay power lines and create obstacles to hinder enemy forces, such as the earthen berms the 32nd BSTB Soldiers built for the FOB.

“The HMEE is a great piece of equipment for doing this type of work,” said Sgt. Jacob Ard, team leader and also a 32nd BSTB horizontal construction engineer. “There are only a few excavators like this available in the state. We’re fortunate to have one to train on and have available for use.”

For Sgt. Tylor Harlan, a horizontal construction engineer who works mainly with heavy equipment, being able to train on multiple pieces of equipment for the FOB training proved useful.

“I like being able to use Training Area 397 because the space allows for more creativity in how we build the FOB,” Harlan said. “While building this, we wanted to make a real-life FOB that could be considered combat ready, complete with a living area. And, while we do this, we also want our Soldiers to be confident in their ability to build a FOB if called upon to do it.”

Necessary skills for horizontal engineers to build a FOB include operation of different types of construction- and rough-terrain equipment, equipment maintenance and repair, soil type identification and grade stake placement.

“We have a great group of Soldiers who are able to complete this mission” of FOB building, Ashby said. “In this training, we get to do things that help us achieve future success. We love being out here, getting dirty and doing what we do best at a place that best accommodates our training needs.”

The FOB built at Training Area 397 was deconstructed when training was complete.

Ard said having Fort McCoy within 40 miles of their unit headquarters in Onalaska is great because they don’t have to travel far to have a place that offers training opportunities.

“It’s good for our Soldiers to be able to come [to Fort McCoy],” Ard said. “There are a lot of good resources here and lots of area to do this type of training. Additionally, Fort McCoy’s Range Control team has taken great care of us and supported us whenever we needed something.”

The 32nd BSTB is part of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. In addition to Onalaska, the 32nd BSTB has units in several Wisconsin cities.