By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff
MINEKILL STATE PARK, Blenheim, N.Y. – On a hillside overlooking New York’s Schoharie Valley, olive-colored Army construction equipment groaned amidst brown wafts of dusty afternoon air as engineers leveled several piles of dark dirt. They worked steadily and with purpose. If bags of awaiting grass seed took root before the first frost, valley residents would have a new soccer field to play on in the coming year.
Soldiers from the 204th Engineer Battalion, New York Army National Guard, placed the finishing touches on a GuardHELP project July 29 for Minekill State Park and its surrounding community.
More than 75 Soldiers worked on the project, using their annual training, since breaking ground in 2003. They operated the battalion’s heavy construction equipment, including bulldozers, graders, and dump trucks and worked with the local community to fulfill the GuardHELP request.
“Hopefully, next fall, we will kick the first [soccer] ball,” David Ranieri, area soccer club director, said. Ranieri’s soccer club offers camps and clinics for more than 1,000 area children and runs an adult league for men and women ages 17 and older. He said the Minekill community, which includes Schoharie, Delaware, Ostego, and Green Counties, outgrew the park’s single soccer field. The club organized along with the Parks Department and the Power Authority to request NYARNG’s knowledge, skill and equipment through GuardHELP.
“I heard from people who had used it before,” Ranieri said. “It’s good for all parties involved.”
Now, a new soccer field lays parallel to the park’s main entrance, and it overlooks the over-crowded soccer field, which was constructed more than 20 years ago.
“Soccer, here, is big,” Sgt. Adam Gregrow, the surveyor, said. “It’s a rewarding project, and it’s good for this community.” Gregrow added that the battalion is assigned GuardHELP projects regularly.
“These [GuardHELP] projects provide valuable cross-training,” 2nd Lt. Thomas Rome, the officer in charge, said. “And cross training is a key for [successful] engineers.” Rome said this includes electricians working as plumbers, plumbers operating heavy equipment and vice versa, which allows the battalion to continue projects when experienced Soldiers are deployed.
Rome accounted for a bulldozer pushing a large mound of dirt down a ditch. The operator — Pvt. Joseph M. Matteson — recently returned from the Army’s engineer school at Fort Leonard Wood, Texas.
“Private Matteson’s a good example of the training GuardHELP provides [Soldiers],” Rome said. Matteson is training as a heavy construction equipment operator. “He received some [training] time on heavy [construction] equipment at school, but this is where he really uses it,” Rome said.
The engineers started their heavy equipment work in 2003 by leveling the site. They erected a drainage system in 2004, which they backfilled with soil this summer.
On this day, the engineers had an experienced heavy equipment operator on hand: Sgt. Patrick E. McCarthy. McCarthy, who recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom II and worked similar community construction projects there, provided the final sweeps of topsoil across the open field, with a grader, before grass seed was spread.
“It’s not the worst place to be for annual training,” Rome said, referring to the park’s scenic overlook of the valley including the Schoharie Creek below.
“We will place a stone [inscribed with the battalion’s logo] when we leave,” Gregrow said. The stone will be the only sign that the New York National Guard trained here.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them,” Ranieri said. He added that the park plans to construct restrooms and a pavilion for the site. When the field is ready for the first soccer ball kick, Ranieri plans to hold an exhibition game, which might match the GuardHELP engineers against the project’s other organizers. “That would be fun,” he said.