Sappers Ready to Clear the Way In advance of Hurricane Irma

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Story by MAJ Colleen Krepstekies on 09/10/2017
Armed with bulldozers, axes and chainsaws, 23 members of second platoon of A Company, under the 753rd Engineer Battalion out of Lake City traveled south in a 15-vehicle convoy to Miramar yesterday as part of a unique response package to support the greater Miami-Dade area after Hurricane Irma passes through. Known as "Sappers," the unit specializes in breaching and demolition operations.

"Our job is essentially to make it happen whatever it is," said Capt. Corey Gathers, company commander for A Company. "This is a non-conventional type of mission and it's going to take multiple minds and a good tight assessment to figure out what we have to do to make things safe again."

The engineer platoon brought its own vehicles and assets to haul materials and clear away debris such as downed trees.

"Our mission right now is we're going to be chasing the hurricane up the west coast," said Staff Sgt. Richard Lovett, platoon sergeant for A Company's 2nd Platoon. "The expected landfall is obviously the southern tip of Florida as well as going up towards Tampa and St. Pete and we keep chasing it up north."

The platoon's mission is to provide the right equipment and skills to ensure their assets clear the way for their infantry counterparts in the 1-124th Battalion, 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. They are also tasked to support a secondary mission termed "point of distribution operations."

"We pair with local government and any agency working in the area so if they have Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) or if they have contracts for other food, we can help get those supplies out," said 2nd Lt. Nicolas Zegowitz, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon. "We help them manage what they have on site as far as security and bringing the assets themselves."

While their primary function is clearing debris and providing point-of-distribution support to local residents, the unit also provides a specific type of reconnaissance.

According to Gathers, their reconnaissance missions include assessments of any sewage systems backing up, wastewater overflow or obstacles that require clearance from traffic routes. These engineer-specific operations support the free flow of emergency responders and distribution of supplies to shelters.

The unit has real-world experience from providing support during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Both Gathers and Zegowitz said that the key element for mission success is flexibility.

"One key lesson from Matthew is to don't be afraid to get involved in whatever it is and try to provide solutions for the local populace. These people need help," Gathers said. "We're going to encounter folks that have lost everything. We're trying to be there to ease any kind of tensions to make it easier for them."

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