It’s not often that a joint military training exercise can directly benefit a local community. But on Annette Island, off Alaska’s southeast coast, service personnel from every branch of the military are taking part in an ongoing, annual Joint Task Force (JTF) road-construction exercise, which will do just that.
When complete, Operation Alaskan Road, as it is called, will have provided training to more than 10,000 active-duty and Reserve servicemen and women. At the same time, it will provide 14.5 mi. of quality two-lane highway to better link members of the island’s Metlakatla Indian Community with ferry service to nearby Ketchikan.
Contributing to that effort, the Ketchikan branch of Hitachi’s Alaska dealer, Construction Machinery Industrial (CMI), is contracted to provide more than two dozen pieces of heavy equipment annually, including four Zaxis 330s, a Zaxis 450 and a Zaxis 200.
Keeping a Promise
Started in 1997, Operation Alaskan Road is the result of a 60-year-old promise made by the Alaska Road Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers to the Metlakatla Indian Community. Each year, as many as 1,600 service personnel from all branches — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — are assigned to the island (generally in rotations of approximately 100 members serving two-week assignments) to both learn and sharpen skills in everything from quarrying rock, to culvert work, to providing a finished grade.
According to Army CW02 Don Von Lintel, the process actually starts even before military personnel get involved.
“The Federal Highways Commission has a pair of crews working in advance of our effort. We call this ’pioneering,’ but it essentially involves pulling the trees, moving muskeg — a mossy ground cover that thrives in this climate — and so on, in advance of our own people,” said Von Lintel. “These crews are running Hitachi Zaxis 330s, and their progress is always impressive. They maintain a nice pace, which allows us to come in and follow up with our personnel; we are never waiting for them to proceed, and I have to believe the performance of the equipment is playing a role in their success.”
Though Operation Alaskan Road should be completed well before then, CMI is contracted to provide the project with equipment through 2009. Each March, according to Brian Elliot, CMI’s sales and leasing representative, his firm contracts with local barge-service operators, loads up a series of barges with the immediate equipment needs, and ships them to a staging facility at Hemlock Bay.
“We will send equipment in throughout the year as the project’s needs dictate,” he said. “However, because of weather, the project shuts down from October through March. So, in September, we will do any necessary repairs at Hemlock Bay, reload the equipment onto a barge, and take it back until next March.”
According to Von Lintel, the wide rage of Hitachi equipment is filling a nice need for the JTF’s efforts at Annette Island, doing everything from quarrying rock that has been shot for road base, to the clearing efforts mentioned above, to standard earthmoving.
“Keeping that equipment up and running is key, given our fairly remote location and CMI has stepped up in that regard, providing an excellent level of service and support to our efforts here,” he said. “While this project is not real demanding in terms of speed, steady uninterrupted equipment performance is obviously key to keeping things on track, and we’ve been very pleased with what the Hitachi equipment — and CMI’s backing — is doing for us.”
Von Lintel said crews are assigned based on expertise and equipment availability.
“There can be a number of different projects at various locations going on at any given time,” he said. “So we might have our Zaxis 330s doing excavation and clearing, a finished grade crew doing work at one location, a culvert crew working at another, a quarry site crew blasting and using the Zaxis 450 to load rock, and so on. We try to keep them far enough apart that their projects don’t overlap.
“The bottom line is these personnel are getting hands-on experience in road building under some challenging conditions, and the Metlakatla community will, upon completion, have better access to the ferry service,” Von Lintel continued. “Currently, getting to that service is via a longer route. This road — which will be rated for 55-mph traffic — will allow quicker trips to and from the ferry site, thereby allowing round-trip ferry service to take place twice a day rather than the current single round trip. It is a win-win situation for everyone, and we are proud to be a part of it.”
JTF is serviced by CMI, in Ketchikan, AK.
(This story appears courtesy of Hitachi Breakout magazine.)