Updated: Feb 6
Oregon engineers took on a special mission to help a small city develop future athletes. The Maupin Deschutes River Athletic Complex (DRAC) is being built with the help of the Oregon National Guard through an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) event.
An IRT is a project where the National Guard has the opportunity to help communities within their state, while also providing unique training the military does not often conduct.
Through this particular project, the 224th Engineer Company, headquartered in Dallas, Ore. had the opportunity to support the City of Maupin, Ore. The city has a population of 438 residents, and the regional high school serves on average 128 students from the 600,000-acre region making funding for improvement projects scarce.
While common for civilian construction companies, a project like building an embankment, is not common for military engineer units. Together with the support from their higher headquarters, these Soldiers were able to gain valuable real-world experience.
1st Lt. John May explained, “this is a test of our ability to work on civilian projects” explaining that while some of his Soldiers do similar work in their civilian careers, for most, this project is a unique opportunity.
The Maupin Deschutes River Athletic Complex started when Holly Miles, a student at the regional high school, asked her father “why don’t we just get a real track?” The existing high school track was not only an odd shape, but was also not a normal distance, with a surface consisting of loose cinder gravel that could wash away or created puddles and ruts.
Holly’s father, Rob Miles, a local business owner, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, and an active school board member was the right person to ask. It was with his help, community support for the project grew.
“This project didn’t have any momentum without [the 224th Engineers], when we heard the Guard was coming, we knew this was finally happening and really got in gear to get things moving. Miles went on to express his appreciation for the “amazing work the Oregon National Guard is providing the community.”
With substantial support from the community gathered, the Maupin City Chamber of Commerce also reached out to Michael Bergmann, a member of a the Tracklandia program to help them with the new facilities. Looking at the location, he noted, “there is so much potential for this facility.” Together with the city, the Maupin Deschutes River Complex became more than just a new track. “When I arrived and saw the view of the Deschutes, I was amazed, “ said Bergmann.
Bergmann has past experience in other cities across Oregon, with track improvement projects. He had previously requested support of the National Guard for an earlier IRT track project in the St. John's neighborhood of Portland but, the “timing and needs did not work out for available resources.” His previous experience developing sports complex projects lead him to put in a request to The Oregon Army National Guard to support what was now a much larger endeavor.
His previous projects include Central Catholic High School’s track and field improvement and the building of the St. John's neighborhood Teddy Roosevelt Track Project to bring people together through sports.
And this time, when he and the city requested assistance from the National Guard, the 224th Engineer Company with support from the 1249th Engineer Battalion was ready to answer the call.
The 224th’s part of this project is quite literally the foundational first step. Soldiers will build a 5,000 cubic yard sliver fill. Filling this large section of embankment and bringing it up 24- feet to match the current ground height will provide a stable foundation for a new track and future sports complex.
The 224th’s engineers arrived in force with 24 vehicles from locations across Oregon. Most of the needed equipment however came from the Dallas, Ore., armory, 150-miles away. The company got right to work establishing the safety boundaries, environmental controls, and moving gravel.
A donation from a local property owner’s quarry also lent to the project, providing the entire 5,000 cubic yards of gravel needed for the project.
Having a quarry to excavate and train on coupled with the unit’s heavy equipment created a different experience for Soldiers from other projects they have supported in the past.
“Our Soldiers are loving this change of pace, not only are we getting to train and get new Soldiers on equipment, we’re getting to help this community,” said Sgt. McKinely Keener
With the unit on a strict training schedule and only in Maupin for 12 days, it took a few days to iron all the details out. Using eight dump trucks in the rotation on the first day, they were providing fill faster than the spreading team could complete their work.
Unit leadership quickly refined and adjusted the operation to be as efficient as possible. “The average round trip time for the dump truck teams is 24-minutes, using seven trucks (versus the initial eight) they are able to keep enough fill coming that there are no lulls or breaks for the team tasked with building the embankment,” explained 1st Lt. John May.
Operating in this continuous rotation for the workday provided an “average of 129 truckloads; estimating about 774-cubic yards a day” May calculated. Maintaining this schedule changed the end date to August 10th, a day earlier than planned.
Dump trucks, loaders, and dozers and a variety of specialized equipment was used on the project. One unique piece of equipment used was a roller combined with a sheep’s foot attachment. The attachment, which has several inch sized protrusions breaks and compacts the gravel fill. The sheep’s foot was critical as a regular flat roller would not have allowed the fill to settle or compacted the rock as efficiently or nearly sturdy enough.
Another specialized piece of equipment used was a High Mobility Engineer Excavator (HMEE), a combination loader and backhoe. This excavator though it required a team to bring it to the work site, was able to move some larger obstacles that would have stalled the ongoing project.
To also keep on schedule, the company brought their own maintenance team with their trucks, tools and work tent to support all 24-pieces of equipment should something need to be fixed
The sliver fill also required some skill sets outside of what the company was capable of, fortunately, what the 224th did not have, they were able to get from their higher headquarters, the 1249th Engineer Battalion.
The 1249th survey team proved crucial for the project. The three-person team took regular readings using survey equipment to monitor the progress of the project. Although their tripod mounted scope and measuring equipment may be outdated compared to the civilian standard, with refresher training Soldiers were able to accurately determine the height and progress of the project.
“This is great training for us, ”said Sgt. Matthew Cruz. His teammate, Spc. Benjamin Hale used some of the survey equipment for the first time in a few years. Because military vehicles are designed to work in difficult conditions most project surveys aren’t typically necessary. However, when a survey is needed, this small team gets called to action.
Working in close quarters and relying on the expertise of the operators, members of the 224th impressed project managers and community members in their efficiency and attention to detail.
The Geological Engineer for the project, Stan Kelsay, who also is a Maupin resident donated his skills and time to the project. Kelsay has more than 35-years working as a geological engineer for construction projects and was “incredibly satisfied” with the 224th’s operations.
Kelsay commented that with what he had seen so far, he had “no concerns about the structural integrity of the project,” and noted that he’s especially critical, since his house is downhill from the project.
Several of the Soldiers expressed their interest in coming back in the future, when the project is complete, to experience the end result of their efforts.
Captain Paul Leifer, commander of the 224th Engineer Company, told community and project representatives, “Our Soldiers are proud to be supporting and improving this community as part of their service in the Oregon National Guard,” a sentiment echoed by every Soldier working on the project.
With the Guard’s improvement, other contractors will be able to build the track to regulation length, with a better surface. It will also allow for the regulation oval shape further providing space for a full-size football field in the center. Maupin will be able to host visiting high school teams, and other community events.
Additional projects to complete the MDRAC will be completed by civilian contractors, these projects include a performance venue, improved seating, and food truck hook ups to enhance concessions.