Early one Sunday in July, South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) employees in McCormick County drove down a dirt road in Sumter National Forest to deliver materials to a work site.
It was not a typical time for employees to head to a construction site, but this was not a typical construction site.
They arrived at 8 a.m. that day to find 15 South Carolina Army National Guardsman already on the job, hammering the wooden deck together and doing other tasks to rebuild a 70-year-old bridge that had been closed because of its poor condition.
“They were really knocking it out,” RME Kevin Walters said. “I was impressed at how fast they were completing the job, especially with the hot and humid weather.”
The reconstruction of the bridge over Long Cane Creek in McCormick County was a team effort between the Guard providing the labor and SCDOT providing the materials and supervision.
By all accounts, the two organizations worked well together. When heavy rains caused the creek to rise, Walters’ crew trucked in dirt and rocks to keep the water back and allow the job to continue.
“We worked really well together to get the job completed,” said Walters, who was impressed at the spirit of the guardsmen as they took on a project that had no shortage in heavy lifting.
They lugged heavy beams, 20 ft. (6.1 m) long pieces of treated lumber in the small, confined work site during some of the summer’s hottest days. When it came time to hammer the 2,096 two by fours to rebuild the deck, the guardsmen divided into two groups for some friendly competition to see who could reach the center of the bridge first.
“These guys did a quality job and put in some long hours, sometimes on their own time, to make sure they were ahead of schedule,” said Maj. Todd Shealy, interim commander of the 122nd Engineer Battalion based in Edgefield. “I’m very proud of them.”
Lt. Jackie Gantt, project officer in charge, said he did not mind putting in personal time to finish the job. “That’s what you have to do as a soldier sometimes,” said Gantt, a Gulf War veteran.
Each year, members of the Guard spend two weeks training in addition to one weekend of training each month. The 122nd Battalion used the bridge project as a required training instead of doing training at a fort.
“The Guard on occasion tries to help out non-profit organizations,” Shealy said. “This was good training for us. It brings all these different units to come together to complete a common goal.”
Shealy said the project benefited tax payers, SCDOT and the Guard. Walters recommended the Guard’s involvement, saying his resources and manpower are stretched.
“This is an excellent example of two organizations working together for the public’s benefit,” said SCDOT executive director Elizabeth S. Mabry. “SCDOT is proud of its great partnership with the South Carolina Army National Guard.”
Maj. Gen. Stanhope S. Spears, adjunct general of South Carolina said, “The spirit of cooperation displayed in this project makes it a model worthy of imitation not only in South Carolina but across the nation.”
“We are very thankful for the hard work by the South Carolina Army National Guard,” said Phillip Brooks, DEA of SCDOT District 2.
Walters appreciated the work of his staff including Lowboy operator Douglas Parker; administrative assistant Doris Watts, who ordered all the materials; foremen Ben David Yarbought, Fate Jennings, George Lewis and their respective crews; shop supervisor Ranger Bland and shop personnel; and the McCormick administrative staff.
The 262 ft. (79.9 m), single-lane bridge in the Troy Community was built in the late 1930s on the Secondary 117, which locals call “Indian Massacre Road” because of its proximity to Indian burial grounds.
Primarily built of timber, the bridge has a 90-ft. (27.4 m), lightweight steel truss. In the 1970s, some beams were replaced with beams from another bridge while others were flipped over and put back, said Yarbought.
“It was getting in real bad shape and overdue for rehab,” Walters said.
SCDOT was forced to close the bridge in 1999 after an overweight truck damaged the decking.
In 2002, the Guard tore out the old bridge’s wooden structure to begin the reconstruction. Many of the guardsmen who started the bridge project were not present to see the job completed this past summer.
More than 500 members of the 122nd Battalion were deployed to Iraq in April, where they may be called to help rebuild infrastructure including roads and water lines.
But that didn’t keep the 122nd Battalion from completing the Troy bridge job. Guardsmen who were not deployed, including those injured in the Gulf War and some who still required additional training, took over the bridge project, Shealy said.
“While their comrades are across the water, this gives them a good sense of purpose and a good sense of training,” said Shealy. “Most of these guys had never worked together before.”
When the bridge was completed in August, all of its components were replaced except the steel truss. But even that was different –– an American flag flew atop the truss courtesy of the South Carolina Army National Guard.
The guardsmen later presented the flag to the McCormick maintenance office, which has placed signs at both ends of the bridge honoring the 122nd Engineer Battalion.
(This article appears courtesy of “The Connector.”)