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Major transition for 555th Engineer Brigade at Lewis-McChord

Largest changes is occurring in the 864th Engineer Battalion

555th Engineer Brigade commander Col. Timothy W. Holman addresses his soldiers about some of the upcoming changes within the brigade during a formation. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

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The more things change, the more they stay the same ... but for the soldiers of the 555th Engineer Brigade on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the changes will be piling up in the coming months as companies redeploy, a battalion is transferred to another brigade and other companies are inactivated as part of the Army's restructuring.

"The brigade headquarters knows this is a major transition," said Maj. Travis Rayfield, executive officer for the 555th.

"The priority is always to make sure that the soldiers we send into combat are ready but this is the secondary focus," he continued. "It's a major leadership challenge and a morale challenge, but we have been proactively addressing this and planning for this since last November."

To that end, a physical and virtual town hall meeting was held in April to ensure that soldiers, as well as their families, were well educated about the upcoming changes. The chain of command has also remained available for counseling and information, both in person and via social media (facebook.com/555enbde).

One of the largest changes is occurring in the 864th Engineer Battalion; as of Aug. 6, the 864th will have nine companies under its umbrella as it takes over four companies from the 14th Combat Engineer Battalion.

"The biggest challenge is to ensure the staff is ready to handle this increase," explained 864th commander Lt. Col. Steven Sattinger. "We will be going from six hundred to eleven hundred soldiers overnight."

However, the battalion's growth will only be temporary, as three of the companies will be deactivated in the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

"In the company closest to inactivating, you can see the challenges and the stress," Sattinger said, referring to the 557th Horizontal Construction Company, which is set to inactivate in mid-October.

Those 159 soldiers in the 557th will be managed individually to align with the needs of the Army, whether that means moving into other engineer jobs on JBLM, PCSing to other units throughout the Army, reclassifying under a new Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) or even choosing to end their time of service.

"We are trying to take care of the soldiers, recognizing that each one of them is an individual. There is no cookie-cutter solution," Sattinger added. "It is tough, but it is worth it to do it this way."

As such, Sattinger and his staff are urging the soldiers with shrinking MOSs to utilize ACAP and other JBLM/Army resources so that they can see that there are other viable options outside of the military.

"Orders may not be in hand yet, but soldiers who are staying at JBLM do know and by mid-August, one hundred percent of the personnel should know their next move," stated Rayfield.

The 617th Horizontal Construction Company and the 585th Vertical Construction Company will be inactivated in 2015, leaving the 864th with six companies.

At the same time, the 864th is expanding, the 14th Combat Engineer Battalion will deactivate and then reactivate as the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB) and fall under the 2/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The activation of the 14th BEB will bridge the engineer gap that brigade combat teams are currently experiencing by making engineer assets more readily available. These soldiers will be capable of providing signal, intelligence and anti-tank assets, as well as engineering assets.

The incorporation of the 14th BEB into 2/2 SBCT supports the Army's 2020 concept by expanding maneuver units' war fighting capabilities and lethality, while still implementing an overall reduction in forces. The 3/2 SBCT will also be acquiring its own BEB in the future, but that battalion will be stood up from the ground and not the result of transfers from the 555th.

Yet, despite all of these changes, the 555th Engineer Brigade remains steadfast and mission-ready.

"We are tasked with both decreasing the number of engineers in the 555th footprint and continuing to support the Army's missions, but we can do it," Rayfield stated. "The mission does not stop, the op-tempo does not slow - the engineers are there until the end."

Soldiers from the 22nd Clearance Company, which redeployed in June, were faced with transitioning to the 864th upon their return even though they deployed as part of the 14th.

Most recently, the 129th EOD Company returned from a 9-month deployment in support of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Kuwait and Qatar. The approximately 40 soldiers provided ordnance disposal and counter IED tactics that enabled their teams to eliminate and reduce chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosive hazards from the area of operations.

Additionally, a number of Triple Nickel soldiers remain deployed, including the 570th Sapper Company, which deployed to Afghanistan in March as a route clearance company charged with keeping routes open and safe for civilian and military travel. Both the 707th EOD Company and 787th EOD Company are also still downrange in support of the International Security Assistance Force mission.

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