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Guard Unit Takes Aim At Archery Site Project

BY RANDY DOCKENDORF (NOTE: This story was originally published by the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan)

When it comes to completing its mission in Yankton, a South Dakota National Guard unit is really making the earth move.

The 842nd Engineer Company of Belle Fourche, part of the 153rd Engineer Battalion, is wrapping up two weeks of work at the NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Complex.

The 26 soldiers and 38 pieces of equipment are moving 300,000 cubic feet of dirt — which comes to 6 million pounds.

The mission comes as a bit out of the ordinary for the unit, said 2LT Seth Uschuk.

“We are a horizontal construction engineering company. We conduct earth moving and horizontal construction,” he said. “We don’t usually work with archery ranges. We work more with roads, landing strips and helicopter pads.”

SFC Travis Pokorney agreed. “This is a very unique opportunity for us,” he said.

This platoon of soldiers, led by Uschuk and Pokorney, are completing the majority of the earth-moving construction during their two-week annual training. After this time period, work will be completed throughout the course of the year by various other members of the National Guard until its culmination in June 2014.

The National Field Archery Association (NFAA) will debut the new ranges when it hosts the NFAA Outdoor National Championships and the IFAA World Field Championships July 30-August 8, 2014.

But first, much work remains to be done.

The archery complex sustained massive damage during the 2011 Missouri River flood, said NFAA president Bruce Cull.

Two years after the flooding, much damage still remains even with the use of inmate labor and other resources, Cull said. He turned to Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, a Yankton native, and SDNG officials about the possibility of using their soldiers and equipment to move forward with the repairs.

“We realized the damage after the flood, and we talked to anybody we could,” Cull said. “As a non-profit, charitable sports education (entity), I asked if the National Guard would help us. They do projects all over the state, and I first contacted (the SDNG) two year ago.”

The flood-related damage ranged from erosion to lost trees, Cull said. “And we had debris from all over hell,” he added.

As host of the 2014 national and world championships, Cull faced a major deadline in completing the $1.12 million in work.

“We have 1,000 people spending two weeks here, and that’s huge, not only for us,” he said. “You look at it in terms of economic development.”

The SDNG soldiers will exercise their skills with the construction of three new NFAA field ranges as well as an NFAA outdoor target range (FITA), Cull said. The complete project will include machine-made hills and valleys, new roads, a comfort station and concession stand, archery shooting towers, improvements to the Complex fishing pond, seeding of grass and the planting of several hundred new trees.

When finished, the courses will rival some of the top outdoor ranges throughout the country, Cull said.

“This is quite a project with some amazing equipment! It’s awesome to see young men and women using their skills and training for their real jobs,” he said.

“What an incredible program, providing help not only to a non-profit national sporting organization but also to the Midwest, South Dakota, Yankton County, and the City of Yankton.”

The project will be completed in phases during the next year, Cull said.

“This project will help provide good, wholesome, family-oriented recreation and economic development,” he said. “Archers should be ready for some challenging and fun courses in 2014.”

Cull put out notices for the project but found he was unable to tackle the work by other means.

“For this project, it was critical that we get some type of assistance,” he said. “We found that we can’t afford to do (this work) unless the National Guard would do it.”

During the past year, Pokorney visited the Yankton site twice and Uschuk toured the site once. The NFAA work fulfills the unit’s annual two-week training mission.

That’s important for the 842nd, which has completed deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Uschuk said. The Yankton work keeps the unit sharp, preparing it for another deployment, if needed, he said.

“We maintain our proficiency of equipment and personnel,” he said.

The 842nd seeks opportunities to take on new responsibilities, Pokorney said. “We are constantly growing and learning,” he said.

The 842nd left Belle Fourche on June 8, taking two days for travel and preparation upon arrival in Yankton. The soldiers broke ground June 10 and have maintained a solid work schedule, starting with breakfast at 6 a.m., then work from 6:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. with a short lunch break.

The soldiers have worked non-stop, with the exception of one day lost because of weather. But the delay hasn’t put the unit behind schedule.

In fact, the 842nd has taken on more work than assigned, Uschuk said.

“Our progress has been excellent,” he said. “The soldiers have been working very hard. It has allowed us the opportunity to give Bruce more than he originally asked. We have added five smaller projects.”

The 842nd has benefited from housing and eating at the archery complex, not only saving them an hour or more of daily commuting time but also providing them with amenities such as private quarters, air conditioning, showers, television, WiFi and even the archery range.

“This isn’t normal (accommodations). Bruce has gone way above and beyond what was expected,” Pokorney said.

The 842nd will leave this week, with local officials planning a farewell event for the soldiers.

Uschuk said he has been pleased with the outcome of the local stay.

“We are starting the wind-down stage. There is a huge sense of satisfaction with this mission, which is new to the unit,” he said.

“There are huge responsibilities that go with this mission, and the credit goes to the soldiers, who have fulfilled our highest hopes. They have made it all happen here.”

Pokorney said he will remember Yankton as one of his best missions, from the outstanding accommodations to the unique learning experiences.

“There is always a great deal of satisfaction when you have people who are trained and accomplish a mission like this in a short period of time,” he said.

You can follow Randy Dockendorf on Twitter at twitter.com/RDockendorf