published Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Unit's first mission: Grow

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    Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee/ Chattanooga Times Free Press - Spc. Kenneth Allen, center, of the 316th Mobility Augmentation Company of the U.S. Army Reserve holds the company flag during an activation ceremony Saturday at the Tennessee Army National Guard's training site in Catoosa County, Ga. The unit began training in October 2010.

Capt. Lex Oren Jr. took command of an Army unit with three members, including himself, in October.

By Saturday he had 47 soldiers.

He's about a third of the way to his goal of 122.

The U.S. Army Reserve "Fighting" 316th Mobility Augmentation Company unfurled its flag in an activation ceremony Saturday on the parade grounds of the Tennessee Army National Guard Volunteer Training Site in Catoosa County, Ga.

Brig. Gen. Bud Jameson Jr. told the assembled soldiers how rare it is to be a part of an entirely new unit.

"Will you make this a historic day?" he charged them. "What is your vision for the 316th?"

Oren said forming the unit has been an honor but also a challenge.

"You've got to be innovative when it comes to training," he said. Much of the unit's equipment hasn't arrived yet, so training over this weekend mostly was simulated.

The Hardy Elementary School physical education teacher used old Internet cabling as fake detonation cord during one training exercise.

"We didn't have any artillery simulators, so I went to Cleveland [Tenn.] and bought some fireworks," he said.

It's just that type of innovation that has helped the former enlisted man recruit other experienced soldiers to his new command.

More than half of the company's 47 soldiers have combat experience.

Staff Sgt. David Beardsley, a Chattanooga resident, has spent eight years in the Army, four as a combat engineer instructor.

The 316th is made up of combat engineers, whose job is to use explosives to breach enemy defenses such as minefields and construction equipment to build defenses, such as berms, to defend against enemy attacks.

Beardsley joined the reserves after a stint on active duty and a combat tour in Iraq. Like many other soldiers, he said, when he was on active duty he didn't think much of his reserve counterparts.

But as a reservist he sees the challenges that people with families, full-time jobs and often school must face when also serving in the military.

The soldiers trained from 6 a.m. Friday until 2:30 a.m. Saturday, got some sleep and were back up at 6 a.m. for more training, a cycle that they'll repeat through the weekend, he said.

"These guys are premium. They're quality individuals, and they're hard to find," he said.

The combat engineer field is closed to women, so the 316th is an all-male company.

Forming the company was part of the Army's response to changing combat priorities, Oren said.

"Since 2003 we've seen a significant increase in improvised explosive devices," the captain said. That shift in fighting helped launch the 2007 "Grow the Army" initiative, which led to the 316th's formation.

Oren will use soldiers like Beardsley and others to help bring in more soldiers to build the 316th.

The unit will move into the Army Reserve Center at 6503 Bonny Oaks Drive once construction is finished, according to a news release.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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