by David Bedard
JBER Public Affairs
2/13/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- December
1950. The Korean War. Following the breakout of the Chosin Reservoir,
Marines and Soldiers of the X Corps had avoided destruction by Chinese
Communist forces and maneuvered south to the port of Hungnam. If they
couldn't evacuate to United Nations lines, the battered unit would risk
being encircled a second time.
It was up to the X Corps' 2d Engineer Special Brigade to run the port
and supervise the loading of personnel and equipment aboard ship - an
operation that would quickly be dubbed an "amphibious landing in
All told, 105,000 troops, 98,100 Korean refugees, 18,000 vehicles and
350,000 tons of bulk cargo were saved from falling into the hands of the
communists, largely due to the efforts of the engineers.
Nearly 65 years later, service members of the 2d Engineer Brigade
accomplished a similar feat during their seven-month deployment to
Afghanistan where the brigade headquarters commanded engineer units
across the country, partnered with Afghan engineer units, and undertook a
massive retrograde of equipment and infrastructure to the states.
Brigade and U.S. Army Alaska leaders took the opportunity to share the
accomplishments of the 2d Engineer Brigade during a Feb. 5 redeployment
ceremony at the Alaska Army National Guard Armory on Joint Base
During his remarks, Army Maj. Gen. Michael Shields, USARAK commanding
general, said approximately 250 Soldiers from the 2d Engineer Brigade
Headquarters, the 23rd Engineer Company and the 17th Combat Sustainment
Support Battalion deployed to Afghanistan last spring.
Once the brigade headquarters arrived, they assumed responsibility as
the Theater Brigade Engineer Headquarters, commanding an engineer task
force of more than a thousand Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen.
Shields said the deployment was especially challenging due to the rapid drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"The Trailblazers' mission required them to reduce the U.S. and allied
footprint in Afghanistan, even as hostilities continued," the general
said. "It is a very atypical challenge and not one we can routinely
train for. It required flexibility and adaptive leadership. Our Arctic
Trailblazers delivered just that under austere conditions."
Shields said the brigade deconstructed and retrograded 108
tension-fabric structures, synchronized the closure or transfer of 48
bases, demolished 662 wood structures, hauled away more than 120,000
cubic yards of debris from project sites, and returned more than $51
million worth of equipment to the Army's supply inventory.
The brigade also managed the technical oversight of clearing explosives
from more than 104 training ranges across the country, disposing of more
than 10,000 high-explosive munitions.
"This effort was critical, as it demonstrated our commitment to reducing
the military presence in a responsible manner," Shields said. "Every
range the Trailblazers cleared of potentially dangerous ordnance, leaves
one less concern for the people of Afghanistan as they face the
During his remarks, Army Col. Peter Andrysiak, 2nd Engineer Brigade
Commander, spoke about how the Trailblazers partnered with the Afghan
National Engineer Brigade to prepare them to fully take over engineer
The brigade commander said the Soldiers couldn't have accomplished their
mission of transitioning the country to Afghan Forces alone, relying on
the home-front support of their families.
"I know too well that the sacrifices they have made, we can't give [that
time] back," Andrysiak said. "There were far too many missed
anniversaries, births and graduations."
Though most of the focus was justifiably placed on what the Theater
Engineer Brigade accomplished, much work was required at the small-unit
level to support the larger effort.
Army 1st Sgt. William Shoaf, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d
Engineer Brigade first sergeant and a native of North Augusta, South
Carolina, said preparing headquarters Soldiers for the deployment proved
to be a challenge.
"Half of our formation had never deployed before, and that was a little
nerve wracking with them not knowing that they didn't understand what
it's like to deploy," Shoaf explained. "But they performed extremely
well. We were surprised at what we could do with so few people."