Michigan Army National Guard unit training exercises benefit local and state multiuse trails in Iron County

Michigan Army National Guard members position grader on ORV trail. (photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

Nov. 9, 2015

As we honor our military veterans this week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources salutes the efforts of the 1432nd Engineer Company of the Michigan Army National Guard.

Over the past several years, the unit — which is based in Kingsford and has a detachment in Iron River — has conducted heavy-equipment training exercises that have improved state and local multi-use trails in Iron County.

Work has been performed over several segments of roughly 20 miles of the Stateline Off-Road Vehicle Route between Iron River and Crystal Falls and about 12 miles of the Iron River-Marenisco ORV Route between Watersmeet and Iron River.

dumping gravel during training, Iron River

“This is a great, mutually beneficial arrangement between the Michigan Army National Guard and the DNR,” said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief. “We certainly owe a lot to this group of men and women.”

In 2007, the guardsmen reorganized from Company B 107th Engineer Battalion to the 1432nd Engineer Company.

“We became a heavy horizontal engineer company, and we needed a local training area to provide to our soldiers to get them licensed and experienced on the heavy equipment that we received,” said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Pietila. “In needing that training area, we looked to have a partnership with the DNR to have this be a successful mission for both the DNR and the company itself.”

The unit had been traveling more than 300 miles south to Crawford County to train at Camp Grayling, the largest National Guard training center in the country.

But guardsmen said they could get more return on their investment training in the local woodlands, working on trails. The crews get opportunities to work on graders, loaders, dump trucks and other heavy equipment.

“More time on the engineering equipment leads to greater efficiency,” said Company Commander Capt. Jeremy Dailey. “Twelve hours of driving to Camp Grayling and back is 12 hours the soldiers don’t get to train and improve their skills.”

vibratory roller in Iron RiverRoute segments to be worked on are prioritized by the DNR. Guardsmen determine which projects best accommodate schedules and available resources.

After planning during the wintertime, the guard trains throughout the summer months on the trails. This year, improvements occurred over 11 miles of trail and a short connector route.

“The guardsmen worked on machine grading and gravel surfacing, improving drainage and providing an unobstructed surface for off-road vehicle users,” said Master Sgt. Ron Raflik.

Rob Katona, DNR Upper Peninsula recreation trails specialist, said the Iron County Road Commission and local contractor Wiegand Excavating provided gravel and other materials needed, paid for by money from the DNR’s ORV Trail Improvement Fund.

“We are very fortunate to have this opportunity,” Katona said. “The National Guard gains valuable on-the-ground training experience by machine grading, gravel surfacing and improving drainage on the local ORV routes.”

Katona said this saves ORV trail improvement program dollars and greatly benefits route users by providing a safer riding experience for ORV users, hikers, mountain bikers, joggers and snowmobilers.

Katona said the improvements also help residents living adjacent to the routes by controlling dust through gravel surfacing of sandy trail sections. The hole filling, grading and surfacing also help minimize or prevent further erosion and potential trail washouts.

“The routes are abandoned railroad grades converted to multipurpose ORV routes through the Rails-to-Trails Program,” Katona said. “The routes are state-managed, including the Iron County Recreation Trail, which is owned by Iron County. These trails serve as state-designated ORV routes and snowmobile trails open to multiple recreational uses.”

skid steer loader, Iron RiverGuardsmen began training on the trails in Iron County in 2008. Work was disrupted in May 2012 when the 1432nd Engineer Company was deployed to Afghanistan.

The unit joined the 1433rd Engineer Company from Kalamazoo. Each company had 92 soldiers who went to Fort Bliss in Texas for training before deployment. While in Afghanistan, the soldiers worked as a route-clearance company.

“Our primary focus was to clear improvised explosive devices from the roads and the area to provide safe travels for all of our allies and fellow units that were in the area,” Pietila said.

In March 2013, the 1432nd landed at Sawyer International Airport in Marquette County, returning from their 10-month deployment. They were escorted to Kingsford by Patriot Guard Riders and police.

Crowds stood along the highway and cheered, offering the soldiers a warm reception. Many people waved flags. A large group of people stood in front of the Veterans Administration hospital in Iron Mountain.

In fall 2014, planning began to return to the trails training with the DNR. The work then started in earnest earlier this year.

Pietila said the National Guard has an agreement to continue heavy-equipment training operations with the DNR in Iron County.

“I hope it continues for a long time to come,” Pietila said.

That sentiment is echoed by the DNR.

“The work achieved the goals of the DNR as well as the National Guard. We are grateful for the efforts of the guardsmen and thank them for a great finished product,” said Kasey Mahony, unit supervisor at Bewabic State Park, which is located a short distance from the Stateline ORV Route. “We are looking forward to more opportunities to work with them in the future.”

Pietila said he thinks the partnership has had a big impact on the guardsmen.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Pietila said. “It provides safe travel for the general public along with giving our soldiers a sense of accomplishment … in knowing that this is something for the betterment of everybody.”


Accompanying photos and video clips are available below for download. Suggested captions for photos follow.

Armory: The Iron River Armory is home to the 1432nd Engineer Company detachment of the Michigan Army National Guard.ORV: Two riders enjoy a fall trip on the Iron River-Marenisco Route, which was recently improved by the 1432nd Engineer Company.

Skid Steer: Spc. Kendall Reed of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, guides Pfc. James Osterman as he drives an M400T skid steer loader onto an M916T. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Ron Raflik, Michigan Army National Guard/Released)

Grader: Sgt. 1st Class Steven Pietila of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, directs Spc. Mark Smith as he positions his grader on an off-road vehicle trail near Iron River. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Ron Raflik, Michigan Army National Guard/Released)

Roller-2: Spc. Michael Thomas of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, operates a CS-563D vibratory roller during training near Iron River. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Ron Raflik, Michigan Army National Guard/Released)

ORV: Two riders enjoy a fall trip on the Iron River-Marenisco Route, which was recently improved by the 1432nd Engineer Company.

Connector: Sgt. Ian Hutchens of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, grades the surface of a connector intersection during training in June on local trails near Iron River. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Ron Raflik, Michigan Army National Guard/Released)

Road: Sgt. Jacob Parske of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, directs Spc. Brandon Holcomb as he dumps gravel during training near Iron River. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Ron Raflik, Michigan Army National Guard/Released)

Roller: Spc. Michael Thomas of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, operates a CS-563D vibratory roller during a training exercise in Iron County. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Ron Raflik, Michigan Army National Guard/Released)

Video clips:

MAH00146 - Sgt. 1st Class Steven Pietila of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, discusses the need for a training area, partnership with the DNR.

MAH00150 - Sgt. 1st Class Steven Pietila of the 1432nd Engineer Company, Michigan Army National Guard, talks about the sense of accomplishment guardsmen have working on trails.

MAH00156 – Rob Katona, DNR U.P. recreation specialist in Marquette, outlines the contributions made by Iron County to the effort.

MAH00112 – Kasey Mahony, unit supervisor at Bewabic State Park, highlights a section of trail where aggregate was placed to control dust./