GRESHAM, Ore. – Over two dozen members of the Oregon Army National Guard’s 1249th Engineer Battalion concluded two weeks of community construction while providing equipment and manpower for a new athletic field and other renovations at Centennial High School, from May 15-26, 2023.
The long overdue upgrades to the old domed-style football field are part of the Army National Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), which provides incidental benefits to local communities through infrastructure construction and maintenance improvements.
The 1249th Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Salem, Oregon, provided equipment and construction-skilled Soldiers and worked for 10 days to remove the existing soil while facilitating the ground for a new 21st-century mixed-use athletic field. The official groundbreaking took place on May 12, with several school district members, teachers and students, along with project service providers on hand.
“Here we are today, breaking ground on phase one of this project,” said Centennial School District Superintendent James Owens during remarks at the ceremony. “There will be roughly 8,500 yards of soil that will be removed, and I want to thank the Oregon Army National Guard for their support – and thanks to them, we will have the dirt removed at a minor cost to the [school] district.”
Centennial High School is one of the last schools in their region that does not have an all-weather turf field. This is the initial phase of construction that will improve the entire stadium, which includes seating and bathroom improvements to the stadium, along with seismic and safety upgrades, and finally resurfacing the track and field facilities.
“These upgrades are exciting and as many of you know, long overdue. Centennial High School field and stadium has been in need of improvements for many years,” Owens said. “The wear on the grass field during high peak sports seasons decreases the opportunity for field use purposes, such as P.E. classes, and other athletic sport uses. This is a real disadvantage to our student-athletes who have to compete against other athletes that play on turf fields.”
This is where the IRT program is vital to communities looking to make every dollar count when it comes to funding, but also looking to partner with resources that the National Guard can assist with.
“After the last few years of emergency response roles within the community, we are so grateful to also provide this type of assistance to our community,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Sagen, 1249th Engineer Battalion Commander. “These soldiers are Oregon’s own and anytime we can engage with the community, work together on projects like these, and leave a lasting impact – then that’s a good day.”
The National Guard covered the cost of the project, with an estimated saving to the school district of more than $100,000. The Guard members are highly trained heavy equipment operators, similar to many civilian skilled jobs, and a majority of the 28 Soldiers who worked on the project serve part-time in the military, employed in construction trade fields throughout Oregon.
“Almost all of the soldiers working on this project are traditional members of the National Guard,” said Maj. Raymond Jones, 1249th Engineer Battalion (S-3) Operations Officer for the project. “They are so happy that they get to do this because this is what they signed up for, and they’re having a lot of fun just operating the heavy equipment and moving dirt around.”
To make way for the new all-weather turf, the Soldiers were responsible for removing the 8,500 cubic yards of dirt, rock, grass, and material from the infield of the track. With excavators, graders, and front-end loaders working throughout the field, as their 5-ton Medium Tactical Vehicles (MTV) were frequently being loaded, relocating the materials as the project neared completion. The material to be removed is being taken to a commercial site, less than a mile from the stadium area and will be reused.
“We have several different MOSs (Military Occupational Skill) on-site, but a majority are our “12 November’s” – that’s the heavy equipment operators, they are using a variety of vehicles that are organic to the 224th Engineer Company,” Jones said. “To this point, all our equipment has been running superbly.”
Part of the challenge is working alongside their civilian counterparts on this project, who are tackling other parts of the stadium with structural upgrades and supporting the Guardsmen.
“They have been really accommodating for the items we need to get the project done, and really – just letting us do the project,” Jones said. “One of the really neat things about this project is that this is something that is making a mark on this community, and they know they are making a difference with their efforts,” Jones said.