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DoD News Briefing: Maj. Gen. Clair Gill, USA

Presenters: Maj. Gen. Clair Gill, USA
December 21, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, December 19, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.


(Note: Participating in this briefing were General Clair Gill, commandant, U.S. Army Engineer School and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA)

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Despite the coverage in USA Today, today, there is still more to say about bridges. So, we brought Major General Clair Gill who's the commandant of the engineer school, the U.S. Army Engineers School, to come and talk about bridging in general and more specifically the bridge that the Army will build across the Sava River.

After he's through, he's speaking on the record and as you can see, he has some film and slides. I'll take your questions on any topic but bridging. General Gill.

General Gill: Thanks, Ken. Well, as he said, my name is Clair Gill and my home is currently Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and I'm proud to be here and to be the commandant of the U.S. Army Engineers School. At the Engineers School, we teach young engineers from privates through captains and lieutenant colonels and we teach them all of our engineer doctrine. But, I'm here today specifically to talk about bridging and do it largely from the schoolhouse point of view.

I have knowledge from reading your papers and watching your clips and talking to people in Europe about what they're doing, but it's imperfect. I can't give you the specific plan because I don't know it and that probably keeps me safe. But, I can tell you how I would do it or how I think they're going to do it and I hope that's of value to you.

I have brought with me a couple of people here who are certainly more expert than I in how to really get this job done. Captain Kelly Slaven over here teaches in our advanced course. He teaches the doctrine and tactics of how you do a river crossing in a combat-type situation. And we're hoping this is something a little bit more benign than that. And then, Sergeant First Class Bruce Smeby, who is a true bridgeman -- he has been a bridge crewman, a boat operator, a section sergeant, and a platoon sergeant -- he has 14 years of experience with these things.... So, he is.... They're my crutch, they're there to help me out wherever, and whenever, you need help.

We teach three kinds of bridging, three different pieces. The first two are assault. We do assault float bridging and that's the Ribbon. Currently, what we'll show you is the Ribbon and that's what I'm going to talk about. The doctrine says that you get those float bridges out and you put fixed bridges in as soon as you can. And that would be, in our case, probably a medium girder bridge, which I won't talk about today. It's a system we bought from the Brits a number of years ago. It's an erector set kind of a thing. You may see this later in the operations. They have it over there and they'll use it [at] other locations.

And then, finally, we have a line of communication, or "support bridge," and we're using the Bailey bridge, which is the old venerable, reliable 1940-built and designed -- erector set bridge. Steel. Heavy. But it gets the job done and we still have a lot of it in the inventory.

My sequence today in talking to you, I'm going to go through about 12 slides. I'm going to show you what the pieces of this thing are and how they come together. And then we're going to end with a tape, that runs about a minute-and-a-half, that you can have copies of to use as you see fit. It shows a doctrinally correct construction of one of these things. We have a model over here, which we'll demonstrate for you at the end of the tape, and it's a piece of the bridge. And then we'll end up with questions and answers at the end.

The topic today is "Ribbon." As a way of introduction, the Ribbon, as I have learned, was a design that the Germans came up with at the end of World War II. My information has it that plans fell into Russian hands and then the Soviets built the bridge. They called it a "PMP." I'm sure that has a great meaning in Russian terms somewhere. And they used it for many years. We have seen it in various exercises and things and were working very hard in the late `60's to copy it using whatever sources we could get.

During the.... Or [at] the end of the Arab Israeli war in 1973, a set of it fell into our hands. And so, reverse engineering became very possible and easy. They completed their design quickly and we fielded the bridge in `76, and it has been our mainstay as an assault float bridge ever since.

Give me the first slide, please. Let's put the lights down. We'll get the lights down and we'll get started here. OK. That's the topic. Next chart. Here is a bridge. Now, this is the Ribbon Bridge. You'll see pieces of this thing. This is a section of bridge. It's 22 feet across here. It's about thirteen- and-a-half feet across -- the traveled way -- which makes it a little bit wider than a lane on the super highway. There's some safety features on the side for walking along it. These are bridge erection boats. More about them later. This particular bridge, in this particular situation -- the river flowing in this direction, the bridge boats are holding it against the stream. There's nothing else anchoring it. It's called the Ribbon because, if you put a heavy vehicle -- typically, a tank or something like that -- and it moves across the bridge, it undulates like a ribbon. It goes up and down. A little bit spooky if you've never done it, but it is very, very reliable.

Next chart, please. OK. I'm more than a double lavaleered [ph]. OK. This is a bridge erection boat being launched. It comes in on a truck. It's got a cradle that holds it. It will be slid down on some cables -- down this cradle and into the water.

Next chart. Here's the bridge erection boat in the water. Very interesting boat. You can see it's got a flat end on the top to help it push. It's got a very shallow draft. It can be used in about two feet of water. Actually, in slightly less than two feet of water. And that's because it's jet propelled. It has two very powerful engines and uniquely, with these two powerful engines that you can reverse, it can turn on a dime. It can turn it on its own axis or radius.

Next chart. There are two components aside from the things that you need to erect it, two major components of the set. This is called an "interior bay." There's an end bay that you can see, on this raft up here, that has pieces that flop out so that you can get up on the banks. The bulk of the set of bridging, of course, is the interior pieces. Here it is. It's been dropped off the back of the truck here down in the water. It is in the process of unfolding. You'll see this in live on the video clip later. Somewhere, probably off to my left behind this, is one of these bridge erection boats that's coming up to catch this thing before it runs away.

Next chart.

Q: It unfolds by itself?

A: It unfolds all by itself. It just flops out there and lays and does all the things that it needs to do. It does not come together by itself, which leads to this chart....

Now, you see this section -- actually, this section here. They're pulling it up. They've attached ropes. And soldiers are pulling it together and these folks are getting ready to put some latches together. It's all being controlled by this sergeant here. Here's the bridge erection boat. This is the downstream side now. And he is guiding this thing into place while this bridge erection crewmen or bridge boat is holding the rest of the bridge in place.

Next chart. Now, I'm showing you a raft. Doctrinally, the way we approach a river is to create rafts first. They're faster, particularly, if it's a wide river. We want to get some vehicles to the other shore quickly for security reasons or maybe we need some engineer vehicles over to help prepare the far shore banks. So, typically, they'll go in and they'll put four interior sections and two end sections together and create a six float raft. This particular one shows three combat-type vehicles on it and two bridge erection boats pushing it across the river. I'm not sure whether they're going to do that, or not, in this operation. But, that's how you doctrinally approach the river. Or, if the river were extraordinarily wide, you would do this completely if you didn't have enough bridging to get to the other side.

The other unique thing about this picture is it shows a CH-47 Chinook helicopter bringing an interior section in. If you have a piece of it that gets damaged, by whatever reason -- or you don't have the capability to get bridging, or you need it fast or it's too far away -- bringing it in by helicopter is a very feasible method of doing it. The bridge section itself weighs about six tons.

Next chart, please. This is two rafts. It's probably -- they're probably closer together than they really are due to a telephoto lens. But, what we're showing here is a M-1 Abrams tank and, then, M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle on separate rafts. We only take one tank at a time because of its size and weight. We can build a raft and carry two Bradleys at one haul across the river.

Next chart, please. Here's a line drawing from one of our teaching manuals. I just want to run you through -- quickly -- the sequence that you use to build a bridge. We have a launch site -- and this is a fairly ideal looking launch site -- that is, they have already brought up and put the bridge erection boats in the water. You see several of them out here. This boat has just dropped this interior section and this boat, this one. They're picking the boats up and then moving them up toward the area where they're constructing the bridge. The bridge is being constructed from both sides at the same time and also of note, is the safety boat out here. This is a little bit more complex than it may appear. It takes some well trained soldiers. The conditions can be hazardous. Often, it's done at night. It's done in slippery, wet, cold, other kinds of weather and the safety boat plays a key role. If somebody falls off, they wear life jackets and things like that. But, if somebody falls off in this very cold water -- or pieces start floating downstream, or something gets unhooked -- the safety boat is always standing by to help pick it up. Again, there's nothing upstream.

Next chart, please. OK. Now, we're getting ready to close a bridge, here. Here's the two pieces of the thing that are being kept apart. Here's the final section being pushed into shape and here's a couple of erection boats getting ready to push this thing together. It will look -- this is the upstream side. It would look a little bit from the air like an inverted "V" and then it would get pushed up into its closed position.

Next chart, please. OK. This is kind of like tunnels, where you work from both sides and you hope you meet together. It doesn't really quite work exactly like that. So, here we've got soldiers with ropes. Erection boats pushing it together. They'll probably push it up a little bit more until it gets straight. And they'll just pull the bridge all the way across until they close this gap.

Next chart. Here's a completed bridge. This -- most of these slides that I'm showing you and the film clip that you'll see was done on a bridging exercise, a test actually, that we ran at Fort Chaffee on the Arkansas River, last summer. In that exercise, were active -- both active and Reserve bridging companies. One of the active companies was the 586th Engineer Company out of Fort Benning. Interestingly, some of these boats -- possibly, some of these soldiers, who are here, are over in Germany, right now, getting ready to get down there. They'll put together the second bridge. I'm told the first bridge is going in by the 502nd Assault Float Bridge Company from Hanau.

Again, a completed bridge. Here we are downstream. The number of boats that erection boats that hold this thing in place will vary depending on the speed of the river. If we have river speeds up to seven feet per second, we call that pretty much a normal crossing. When we get over seven, then we need to start taking some extraordinary measures. It gets to be a much hairier operation to put it together. It takes more boats to hold it in place and we start limiting the number and the spacing of the vehicles that cross it. The bridge is capable of crossing about 200 vehicles an hour; and they go to speeds of about 15 miles an hour when they're actually on the bridge. Slower to get on and slower to get off. They -- when you put tanks on it, you keep the tanks about 100 feet apart. And if you go to caution or risk crossings, then you may go down to where you only have two tanks on the bridge at one time or you may have a much greater spacing. Sir, you had a question?

Q: I wanted to ask if you knew what the flow of the Sava River is...

A: What I've been able to gather, and I've looked at the hydrologic reports and things like that -- we're in fairly good shape on a seasonal norm. The Sava is at high water in November. There's some fall rains that bring it up, and then, again -- in the springtime around March and April as the snow and ice thaws -- it picks up again. It's down now, I've been told. And I don't know for sure, but it's about a meter-and-a-half a second -- and that's about five feet per second. So....

Q: Will the supplier then need these boats to be on, constantly, to keep it in place?

A: Well, I'll get to that in a minute. The faster it is, the more boats you need. Right here, they've got a pretty goodly -- well, that's about a medium number of boats that you might have to do it. Sir?

Q: What's the time limit for holding this bridge in place, keeping crews in there, keeping the boats fueled, etc.?

A: As long as we have to pass traffic. But, what is actually going to happen, I'm told, is -- if you're going to stay there for any significant length of time -- you create an anchorage system. So, we will string a cable on the upstream side, from one end to the other a very strong cable: not an easy chore. And we will then run restraining wires, much like a suspension bridge except that they won't be vertical. It will be down to the upstream end of this bridge and it will hold it in place. We won't be able to get away with taking all these people off. You really have to tend to a bridge. There's leakage. You've got to go through and make sure that you're not leaking and pump them out every several hours. As long as you have boats there, you can leave them there for several days. But, you just have to rotate crews and you have to keep refueling the boats. So, it's a constant maintenance type of operation. And that's why that, doctrinally, you don't want to leave your assault bridging in the water forever. You've got to get it out.

Now, you also can break the bridge if there's river traffic or something like that. You can break it in half, as we did before, or you can -- maybe more desirably -- just break it off from one end and then flop it down and reverse that process, put it back in shape. You can imagine that takes a little bit of synchronization and control, but that's what we train the bridge companies and the soldiers to do, and they do it very well.

Q: This bridge is for a relatively short time -- a short term?

A: It's as short -- it will be the supply route. As I see it, there are two main roads that move down into that area of the country that we're going into and the plan is to have two float bridges in there. There was a bridge -- a highway bridge -- there and I know that there will be serious efforts to putting a bridge, a real bridge, back in place. There's also a railroad bridge that was blown-out, which is being looked at as a very desirable feature to help speed logistics. But the bridges.... We'll keep the bridges in and use them as long as there is traffic.

Q: How long will it take to build a bridge across the Sava River?

A: I'll qualify this. Under normal, ideal, reasonably pristine conditions, they should be able to build the bridge within two hours. I will tell you that conditions, what time of day, Murphy, all the other things that are out there, I don't want to put these guys on the spot -- if you start your stopwatches, now, on them -- because I'm not on the ground and making the decisions and I don't know if they want to raft for awhile first and then hook the rafts together or exactly how they want to put it in.

Q: Sir, how wide is the river?

A: Of course, it varies. It depends on what site -- and the actual sites as recently as a few days ago hadn't been firmly nailed down. We use private property. We've got to go negotiate property rights to actually to build these sites. I'm told that it's in the neighborhood of 300 meters, which gets you in the 900, 950 to 1,000 feet. That's a little bit more bridging than we carry in one bridge company. So, they have picked up additional bridge stocks from theater war reserve stocks up there in order to get all the way across. This bridge incidentally, in the then flooding Arkansas River, is about the size of the bridge that we're going to put up.


Q: This anchoring system...

A: There's no anchoring system in this. It would go in here, and then probably above that you would put a protection system to pick up debris, ice, other very undesirable things, that might come floating down towards your bridge. And I expect that will be a future improvement.

Q: You would drill the anchoring system then into the base of the river or would they go to the banks?

A: You would come up.... You would find the spot somewhere up on the hill here, and build a tower. And then, you'd get an anchoring system in behind that to put your cable, run it across the tower. Then, it would suspend obviously, sag -- across the river and then you'd create your tension lines from there, down to the side of the bridge.

Q: How long did it take them to build that one?

A: I wasn't there. Help?

Unidentified Speaker: Three hours.

General Gill: Three hours? Three hours.

Q: What are the dimensions of those bridge boats?


Unknown Speaker: Twenty-six feet long, sir.


A: Twenty-six feet in length.

We're going to go into a film clip, which -- I think I've talked this slide to death. It's my last slide. I'll talk you through the film clip, which is about a minute-and-a-half. I'll pull this off -- and let's run the film clip, please.

OK. It just dropped in and has already flopped out. Here's a bridge erection boat coming up -- with a full crew on it which would jump off. This is an end section here. You can see the ramps that will be thrown out.

Here we are in the bridge erection boat. We're bringing it together. A lot of manpower-intensive things getting it aligned and then they'll throw some latches to firmly hook it together. The boat won't go away. There are many simultaneous droppings that are going on at the same time. Here we have a raft that's been completed. It's getting lined up and it will be back in for a load. Here it's been loaded up with combat vehicles. Again, you'd only put one tank on it, but it's got a bunch of stuff. Here's the bridge being closed. It's just about to be -- there's the lines coming across. They'll pull it in and anchor it.

OK. Here's the completed bridge. It's been walked and checked. Everything is in order. An engineer vehicle, they send one in case they screw it up, they send an engineer truck over this spare piece of bridge to proof it. And then here's a guy, the first sergeant, he's in charge and he's checking. Now, we're going to pass some combat traffic. There they are going across the river and here's what it looks like if you're driving. It's a little bit scarier in a tank.

Unknown Speaker: It's quiet. [Laughter]

Mr. Gill: When you turn the noise off, it's quiet. OK slide off. What I'd like to do now is hold the Q & A's, if you have any, and bring out Sergeant Smeby and Captain Slaven and have them show you this little training aide that we use at the schoolhouse. We do train on real bridges too.

SFC Smeby: Thank you, sir. Good afternoon. This is a model of the key component which is the interior bay. I'll just run over some of the dimensions again. It's 22 feet long. When it's in the full configuration it's 12 foot wide and it weighs six tons. Normally this is held in place on the back of a truck by six latches. These latches will be opened up in a preparatory area before they even get to the river. The only thing holding it on the truck when it goes down will be a hydraulic pin. The truck is then backed into the water hub deep to the rear axle. The hydraulic pin is released and this rolls by itself down into the water.

Once it hits the water, we have the forces of buoyancy and gravity working for us. Because the buoyancy is going to start to split the bay you see here. At that splits, buoyancy continues to take it out further and gravity brings the center of the bridge down. And then you have two cables that are attached to the outside, that flip it open like this and then you have the roadway width of 13 feet 5 inches and an overall width of 26 feet.

General Gill: Any questions on the model?

Q: Well, I'm just curious. We keep referring to this as a "pontoon bridge." But, it's technically not?

A: Technically, not.

General. Gill: Technically, not. A pontoon -- I just had this lesson this morning from one my good colonels over here. A pontoon is a -- well, let's go back. The basic was a ponton. This was like a rowboat that you built a bridge across and they did this in the Civil War -- in the Rappahannock, among other places, created a bunch of these little wooden pontons and you just build a structure across the top of them. When you close the top in, as we did in one of our earlier things with a rubber or pneumatic raft, it became a pontoon. That, is a pontoon boat. This is an assault float bridge.

Q: So, it's basically a floating bridge?

A: They're all floating bridges. This is all floating. The only thing I can say it's a Ribbon. It's going to -- the floats -- it's built out of steel on top and aluminum on the bottom. That's one improvement we made under the Russians. The Soviets. Excuse me. Sir?

Q: What does each section cost?

A: I haven't bought any lately. But, Bob, where are we? We'll have to dig it out and get back. It's -- we haven't bought a lot of it for some time.

Q: What's going to be a realistic time on build on the Sava since two hours doesn't sound realistic.

A: I mean, if I were in charge, I'd tell them to build it in two hours and see how well they did. I think it's safe to say that they'll build it within the daylight hours that they have and again, if I were running the operation, I'd start early and I would want to move as much of my traffic to the other side during daylight hours because they still got to get those 50 miles down the treacherous roads to Tuzla.

Q: Was that bridge that we saw in the video tape the same bridge that we saw in the slides?

A: It was of the same exercise. It may have been. There was one bridge with a tank, and a Bradley came on it came from a different set. But most of those were from that exercise.

Q: It can take 200 vehicles an hour? How long -- I mean, you gather you expect it to be up for days or weeks?

A: Yes.

Q: Or longer, not just for --

A: Days or weeks. It's safe to say in the early days, it will probably be several thousand vehicles cross it.

Q: If these are 22 feet each and the river is how wide, 900 feet or --

Unknown Speaker: Nine sixty-five was the number.

General Gill: Well, that was -- it's what it is wherever they actually do it. It's somewhere in that neighborhood.

Q: Some quick math. It will be about 46 -- 46 sections would be about 1,012. About 46 sections?

A: You're right on the mark. I could give you an honorary bridge... [Laughter]

Unidentified Speaker: A little card, sir.

A: A little card. We have a little formula for that, sir.

Q: Is there any lighting on the bridge for night ops?

A: There is no lighting on the bridge itself. We have means of illuminating. Usually, the bridge erection boats have the illumination and that's what we use for safety and for illuminating and so forth. But, in some conditions, in fact, in a lot of our training, it's put up in the dark. They just do it with night light. That's the advanced exercise.

Q: Does the deck tend to get iced up in bad weather?

A: It will -- there are issues of slipperiness. Iciness probably not. It's flexible enough that as this heavy equipment goes across it, it will crack the ice. Now, so you have ice or you have slush. You're going to have something up there. But, that will be a -- that will be an issue if it's raining and crummy -- and it looks like it's raining and crummy a lot of times over there.

Q: Where will the boats normally come? I mean, would you navigate the river from some other end or would you haul them in or --

A: Our bridge erection boats. They are going to come down from Hungary and they are coming in on train and get downloaded. The trucks will off-load the trains and wind their way down to the crossing sites.

Q: Where are they? Are they off the trains and then go in the river?

A: I don't know. I know that within the next two weeks it's safe to say that we'll see two of them go in. Maybe in the next several days, but I'm not -- I just haven't gotten into the day they're doing that. I read the newspapers. They tell me that things are a little slower than they thought they would be.

Q: Sir, do know when the last time you did one of these bridges at a non-exercise environment?

A: Well, we didn't do it in the desert. [Laughter] I don't think we've ever used one frankly. [Laughter] I mean, I'm thinking back to my Vietnam days and we didn't have it. So, it wasn't there for that and it wasn't around for Korea. What it has been used extensively on were these REFORGER exercises that we ran in Europe and that's why we built up the bridging, because we knew exactly what we were facing in terms of river crossings and how many kilometers it was to the next river. And so, we built up a plan that got us there to the front with the Russians in case they blow the bridges. Sir?

Q: Can you.... Why was it so difficult to.... The Germans invented this during World War II. Then, the Russians who captured it?

A: I know that for a fact.

Q: Why was it so difficult for us to.... Why couldn't we just, you know, make a copy of it without having to....

A: Believe it or not, there's a lot of engineering that goes into this thing. It has to float. It has to meet certain weight limitations. It has to be durable. It has to be soldier proof. It has to latch and you don't want to break the latches. It's got a shape so that small debris and ice. It's structured so that the small debris and ice gets under there and slides under it. As Sergeant Smeby pointed out, it falls in place and deploys itself. So, it's a little bit like a self closing hinge in your house and we don't have many of those. There is significant engineering in the thing. But, it's a lot easier to do when we had a real one and we're trying to deal with pictures and hearsay.

Q: Can you just sort of quantify for us, how difficult a job are those bridge engineers facing now? Is this all in a days work for the Army? Is this a particularly challenging assignment?

A: Every assignment is a challenging assignment. It is -- in terms of building the bridge in a training exercise, it's all in a days work. Now, what we've added to this is a great degree of difficulty. We've got an awful lot of conditions. We've got an awful lot of pressure on these people to get the bridge in on time and make it work. We don't know, although, I assume by now, there's been some people on the ground. You don't know what you know until you do it and you're there.

The exercise itself is a challenge in terms of the synchronization that it takes to make these 85 people that you have out there on the water doing all the things that they have to do to capture these pieces of equipment floating on a fast river. If the river speeds up, it's an enormously more challenging operation. The anchorage system will be a challenge. We don't traditionally do a lot of that. That's kind of a new thing that we'll have to re-learn.

Q: But, here has been, at least, oh, I was going to say 40 years, but at least 20 years since you've had these bridges where you've been practicing in case you had to put up one of these bridges and now the time comes where the United States needs a bridge put up. Is there some gratification that you're ready to do the job?

A: You know, you're always -- you're always flattered or proud or whatever when you get an opportunity to serve and I just know that those combat engineers and bridgemen out there are going to do a great job for us.

Q: Are you -- just from your knowledge of this whole bridging community, are there any private companies that do this sort of thing? Could you contract this out to Brown and Root for example?

A: No. You could -- well, if you get enough money you can contract anything. That's my opinion. But, you can't do it overnight. What they would do would b e to go out and round up a bunch of people in the Reserves that weren't called up, or retirees or something like that, and they would -- they'd get a bunch of people together that have done this thing and run them over there.

In the Germany scenario, we used to keep some labor service or civilian service group people. They started out as refugees from the East, and we had a bridge company of them, and they were extremely proficient because they did it for 20 or 30 years. The difficulty with our soldiers, of course, is they are young and we run them through. They are privates one day and specialists and sergeants the next. Sergeant Smeby is an expert. He's got 14 years experience. That's a lot of experience. But, if you put somebody on it for 20 years, they would be really good.

Q: Is this type of bridge -- is this the right choice for the climate throughout the entire winter and the summer?

A: You know, I've looked at the series of bridges we had before this, and other bridges in the world, and there's some systems out there that the French and the Germans use that have a lot of hydraulics and we've had them in our system in the past. I think this is the best bridge in the world. It takes a little bit more manpower. It's inherently simple in concept, but it just takes some coordination to get it altogether.

Q: What are the recovery procedures if something goes wrong? If this starts coming apart when a tank is going --

A: Put the troops out there, break the section, get your boats in place, open the gap, pull that section out. Well, first you get your equipment off the bridge. Then you break it. Then you pull the section out that's bad -- or sections. We do this in training as drills in case somebody shoots artillery at you or something, which is quite often the case if you're in a real shooting war. This is a place that they'd like to slow you down.

Q: This model of bridge isn't filled with foam or anything to keep it from with water?

A: No, it wouldn't instantly go under because there's just enough redundancy and they're hooked together. But, in time, you would probably -- you would need to pull those out and replace them.

Q: How strong are the latches? For example, could someone upstream cut down a couple of big trees, dump them in the river, and have them float down and it would break the thing?

A: That's conceivable. But, we would probably -- I talked about a protective structure, a debris boom upstream above the anchorage system doctrinally, you would put in some kind of a boom. You also -- depending on the environment you put in nets there to capture other sorts of things that might come down there.

Q: Have we shared any of the improvements and technology with the Russians now that they're our allies in this operation?

A: I'm sure they know as much about it or knew as much about it as we knew. We're very open in our technology and whether they had the actual specifications or not, I don't know. We do hope to make some improvements on it. It's got a few things we'd like to fix over time, so that it handles some of our heavier vehicles and becomes a little bit more durable.

Q: Did the Army manufacture that itself or do you contract it out?

A: It's contracted. We wouldn't attempt. We may repair it, do a depot overall-rebuild, fix latches, and things like that, that are broken over time, but we wouldn't undertake trying to build something ourselves.

Q: You told us this is called the "Ribbon Bridge" because of the --

A: It undulates across the river.

Q: Is there some other esoteric name like the George Patton Memorial Bridge or something? [Laughter]

A: We got an "M" name for this, a special name?

Unidentified Speaker: No. [Laughter] We didn't -- you know, this is one of those we just chose not to. [Laughter] Maybe we weren't smart enough.

Q: Any acronym? There's got to be an acronym.

A: Maybe we can make one out of Ribbon. [Laughter] Ma'am?

Q: You mentioned that the unit over there is going to have to dip into some more Reserves.

A: Yes.

Q: Does that mean also that you'll need additional people to put this up than a normal bridging unit would have?

A: No. In this particular case, we think there are enough people out there with a full strength company to operate that operation. The companies that were brought up -- the units that are over were brought up to full strength if they were down. But, if it were much bigger than it is, it's about 50 -- I hate to talk in meters, but I'm getting lost between yards and feet and meters. They carry -- the bridge company carries 215 meters of bridge. This is about 300 meters wide. So, there's about a 50 percent extra factor that they need. Given that that river doesn't run much faster than it is, I think they can handle it. If it isn't enough, they will pull from that other company before they put the second bridge in and backfill that.

Q: Could you talk just a little bit about... You said, eventually -- these didn't have audio-visual prop to support this, but -- you said, eventually they would put in a more permanent kind of bridge or, at least, that would be considered. Can you just briefly describe the process for putting those? Is that just similar to regular normal bridge construction?

A: Well, we will be doing a lot of prefab bridging. The way it goes, you start with your assault, and then you put your float bridges in, and then you go to your erector set type of bridges. The medium girder bridge won't fit here. It's good for significantly less size. There's a possibility of a Bailey bridge going in there, but you need piers across there because it has limitations. It's not like building the Brooklyn bridge. We don't have time to do that -- and money, and -- you know, we're here just to get the job done.

So, I suspect that they are scoping out how to put a Bailey bridge in. Given that they don't have a Bailey, then we're over to the contract world in looking for things that we would do. If you go back to the World War II model, after you put your Bailey in, even that becomes a shortage commodity. So, then you take it out and you put it tempered tressel or concrete or something like that in the rear. It's a constant leap-frogging. You have limited amounts of your float bridging and limited amounts of all the things that follow it up and you keep pushing more combat-like stuff forward.

Q: Is there a lot of traffic, commercial traffic or ammunition and stuff on that?

A: On the river?

Q: On the river.

A: I don't know. I know the river is navigable. I read the hydrologic report or something. It said it was navigable up to Zagreb. So, I anticipate that there is some river traffic. But, whether that runs all year, or the economy has gone so bad that it doesn't run, I don't know. But, I would anticipate that they are going to break the bridge from time to time.

Q: There's only two bridges across at this location?

A: No, they're building two bridges across. Not at this location. Not that I've been told. If you look at the map, there are two roads leading to the Sava River. My guess is, you want to -- the object of this is to get the traffic across the river, not to find a great place to build a bridge. So, you build a bridge where you've got your roads or nearby.

Q: They are in the same neighborhood?

A: Same -- you would expect them in the vicinity of those bridges that have been blown, you would find somewhere along there you're going to see our bridges go in.

Q: What kind of protection, what defends that bridgehead on both sides?

A: Doctrinally, this is a much more complex operation. You must plan building up combat power and all that sort of stuff or you put your folks across and then you put some tanks across and you work your way out. In fact, you don't bridge, you raft initially, because of that or one of the reasons that you raft. I'm told that in the briefing yesterday that you were briefed that there are some Norwegian battalion.

Unknown Speaker: Also, they are part of the 1st Armored Division.

General Gill: OK. There will be some elements across. There's a ferry in this area, I'm told. There may be means to get some combat -- I don't know if you can get a tank across, but I can assume you get something across there. We hope it's benign. I mean, it's a lot better just to put up with hazards of the elements and mud and all that sort of stuff and not have to have somebody shooting at you while you're doing it.

But, the soldiers protection is very limited. They may be in a Kevlar helmet and a Kevlar vest that protects them a little bit from fragments. But, they are very exposed. In a real honest to goodness combat river crossing, you "smoke" the river, too. You do anything you can to obscure the site. You put it under -- I've talked about putting it in under darkness -- blackout conditions. You do that so that you can be relatively unseen. And then, when you get that river in, you want to get as much combat power across and down the road as fast as possible.

I suspect that they're doing part of this in that -- this one little road going down there, they want to get the stuff in the right sequence. There may be some bridges, some armored vehicle launch bridges or things up front if they need them to get to Tuzla. And then they'll have whatever vehicles. They are all being sequenced and they go into a pool off the river line and then they'll as soon as the bridge is in, they'll start pulsing them across.

Q: Do you expect when the U.S. forces leave in a year that there will be sort of permanent bridge there, there will be something left behind or would we take it down?

A: I don't -- this bridge is going to come out of the water. I can't imagine trying to keep that in for a year. I mean, that really would stretch it.

Q: Would there be some sort of structure that would be left behind?

A: There will be some sort of a structure there. It's got to if you're going to try to put the economy back together and so forth. And it may be a log-cap type thing.

Press: Thanks very much.

General Gill: Thank you. It was a great privilege for me to meet you all. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in all these sorts of things in the future. I appreciate the great work you do.

Press: Thank you. mber 19, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.

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