The Virginia National Guard had a “phenomenal” experience in Henry County while rough-grading a lot at the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park, according to Guard Capt. Michael Schaeffer.
Officials have said Henry County reached out to the guard to rough-grade the lot, saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and providing two guard units with required in-the-field training experience.
With the month-long project complete, Schaeffer said Thursday that he anticipated his unit would be moved out of the site on Saturday.
Schaeffer and 1st Sgt. Billy Bartlett, both with the 1033rd Engineer Support Company of the Virginia National Guard, said members of their unit were impressed with the kindness shown to them by area residents.
“This is the first time that I’ve been in a place like this that is just so patriotic and appreciative to men in uniform,” Bartlett said.
“The other night, (Henry County Director of Engineering) Tim Pace arranged for a couple of our guys to go to the baseball game,” Schaeffer said. “Our guys were out there signing autographs ... little kids were coming up to them.”
Bartlett said during a recent trip to Wal-Mart while he was in uniform, no fewer than 10 area residents approached him to thank him for his service.
Schaeffer said that on two occasions, an area resident brought the guard enough pizza to feed more than 100 people.
“We don’t usually get accepted like that in a lot of countries,” Bartlett said.
“Or the states,” Schaeffer added, laughing.
The 1033rd Engineer Support Company is the sister unit of the 180th Engineer Support Company, Schaeffer said. The 180th arrived at Patriot Centre on May 27 and began clearing and rough-grading lot 11 at the industrial park as part of its annual summer training exercise.
After about two weeks, Schaeffer said, the 1033rd replaced the 180th and continued working at the site for another two weeks.
Although both units belong to the same battalion, they do things a little differently, Bartlett said. For example, although the first unit camped in the field for two weeks, the 1033rd stayed at the National Guard Armory.
“I don’t believe in staying in tents when we’ve got a hard-shell building to stay in,” Bartlett said.
Staying at the armory, Bartlett said, also allowed the unit to place its focus solely on the training exercise.
“When we stay in the field, we have to focus on cleanliness, security in the camp ... it makes extra jobs for people to have to do,” he said. “We wanted to streamline the training to get out there and move dirt.”
Both units, however, took advantage of an offer by Patrick Henry Community College to let the guardsmen shower at the campus, Bartlett said.
Schaeffer said that when he first arrived at lot 11 two weeks ago, he was surprised by the sheer scale of the operation.
“It was a bigger site than what I anticipated,” he said. “I was out there probably about three months ago, back in March, when it was still wooded. I walked it a little bit, and it didn’t seem too bad. But when the site got cleared, you kind of grasped the enormity of it ... 15 acres.”
Bartlett said the unit generally worked from daylight to dark each day. Although the project was a lot of work, he said, he and his unit enjoyed the opportunity to use the guard’s heavy equipment.
“Our guys don’t get to run their equipment but maybe once or twice a year because of restrictions on training requirements on military installations,” Bartlett said.
“We’re very limited in our capabilities,” Schaeffer added. “Almost all year round, we’re told, ‘We can’t dig here, we can’t dig here, we can’t dig there.’ And then you guys say, ‘Oh, have at it.’ ... Everything we did for the county, they were more than appreciative. They were flabbergasted by just how much our guys loved to get out there and get on the equipment and actually work.”
Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner said the county’s original estimate on the cost of the rough-grading project was more than $1 million. Thanks to the work by the Virginia National Guard, which donated not only time and equipment but also the fuel necessary to power the equipment, the county has paid only about $300,000 on the project.
The lot still needs a bit more rough-grading and final grading, Wagoner said, but the amount of work completed by the guard was on target with what the county had anticipated.
“We knew that building a rough-grade road and prepping an entire 15-acre lot within 30 days was a tremendous task,” Wagoner said.