Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

SD Guard engineers complete construction project at Bear Butte

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Soldiers with the South Dakota National Guard’s 842nd Engineer Company refurbished the observation deck near the summit of Bear Butte as part of an Innovative Readiness Training project.

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and Bear Butte State Park officials partnered with the SDNG to replace the weathered platform decking and stairs with new treated wood.

The SDNG’s Company C, 1-189th Aviation Regiment provided assistance with a HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to sling load in the heavy materials.

“The need to repair, replace or upgrade aging infrastructure is always a major need in any state park,” said Jim Jandreau, BBSP park manager. “Most projects can be handled by the district that a park is located in. However, our observation deck is in a very inaccessible location when it comes to stocking material to do such a project.”

The SDNG participated in the project through is IRT program, which partners with organizations on projects that provide a benefit to communities while providing hands-on, readiness training for soldiers.

“Project size, location and man power, where the three deciding factors (for the project),” said Jandreau.”After observing the Michaelson Trail Bridge projects for quite awhile now, it was very apparent that the National Guard could meet all these needs.”

“These types of projects facilitate goodwill and service to our local communities and state parks,” said Capt. Nate Livermont, 842nd commander. “This is also an excellent opportunity to showcase our technical skills.”

Bear Butte was established as a state park in 1961 and attracts thousands of visitors each year. Also known as Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain,” the geological laccolith formation is an important landmark and religious site for the Lakota and other Native American tribes.

“It’s awesome to work up here and make a better place for the visitors and Native Americans to this site,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Hartle, 842nd platoon leader. “It’s great to actually do projects that we know support the community – it makes the project more meaningful.”

About 15 soldiers from the unit’s vertical construction platoon worked on the project as part of their two-week annual training. They replaced the deck boards on the foundation of the 30-by-16 foot structure, as well as installed new railings and about 40 feet of stairs leading up to the platform.

One of the unique challenges of the project is Bear Butte’s elevation and rugged, steep terrain. The trail has a vertical climb of nearly 1,000 feet from the base to the summit and is 1.85 miles long. In order to deliver the lumber, equipment, and supplies safely and efficiently, the SDNG’s Company C, 1-189th Aviation Regiment provided assistance with a HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to sling load in the heavy materials.

“This project was unique in that it encompasses a tactical application with the nuances of the dismounted movement up Bear Butte, along with the coordination of sling load operations with the 1-189th Aviation,” said Livermont. “It’s an experience that will resonate with our soldiers for years.”

“It’s an awesome opportunity to work with the aviators,” said Hartle. “They saved us a lot of work for sure, and it’s good to work with other units and see how they do things.”

In addition to providing skills training for the unit’s carpenters and other job specialties, the project also helped the soldiers work through problem solving and project management.

“The constraints that we have with tools and equipment, it helps the soldiers get better at managing projects, as far as what we need to do a project, timelines – we only have a limited amount of time to complete the project – it really helps them grow in their skills,” said Hartle.

“The sheer planning, coordination and risk mitigation that the Bear Butte project entailed afforded our project NCOs to exercise their leadership skills on another level,” added Livermont.

Both Livermont and Jandreau credit the partnership on making the project a success.

“With facilitation from Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Shay (IRT manager), our partnership with GFP has been seamless,” said Livermont. “Several factors contributed to the success of this mission; we were blessed with beautiful weather, thoroughly engaged partners from Game, Fish & Parks, and consummate professionals from the 1-189th Aviation.”

“The experience has been all positive, who isn’t impressed by a helicopter to do the heavy lifting and all the guys from the 842nd power walking their way up the mountain for 10 days and putting it all on the line to achieve a quality outcome,” said Jandreau. “It was a pleasure and thank all of them very much.”

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