From Florida to Puerto Rico to Kansas: 249th Engineer Battalion Practices Industry Skill

Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion, Prime Power, put their lineman skills to the test when they competed in the 38th International Lineman’s Rodeo at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, on Oct. 15, 2022.

Teams and apprentices from four of the five companies within the battalion competed: three active companies, Alpha Company, Charlie Company and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and the battalion’s reservists, Delta Company.

Competitors participated as journeyman teams, which consist of two journeyman climbers and one journeyman groundman, who specialize in building and maintaining electrical power systems, and as individual apprentices, who were there to practice their skills in hopes of becoming a journeyman.

Teams and apprentices competed in four events, two of which were known events and the other two were a mystery until the day before the event. Each event tested a different set of skills and gave Prime Power soldiers the chance to practice those skills.

Lineman industry professional participate in the 38th International Lineman’s Rodeo at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, on Oct. 15, 2022. The rodeo is a chance for industry professionals to come and compete in four different events to practice their skills alongside each other, either as a journeyman team or as an apprentice. USACE PHOTO BY REAGAN ZIMMERMAN

“We are here for justification of our skills… It is to prove ourselves in the industry – that we are an asset and that our knowledge justifies us being in this industry,” Sgt. 1st Class Virgil Jordan of Charlie Company out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, said. “[The competitors] do this on a daily basis [and we don’t] so to be here and be alongside of them… we know our training is paying off.”

As a Prime Power soldier, working on power lines is not their “everyday” job. The group of soldiers competing in the rodeo hold the 12P Military Occupation Specialty, Prime Power, but also took on an identifier of U4, Power Line Distribution Specialist, under their MOS, which gives them the additional responsibility of working on power lines when that skill is needed on missions.

Their “normal” 12P jobs include three different missions: National Response Framework missions, or NRF, where they deploy to support disaster relief efforts across the country, Task Force Power or Safe missions, where they travel to bases and conduct safety checks on electrical systems, and Prepare to Deploy missions, or PTDL, where they set up new base camps overseas.

Staff Sgt. Rafiqy Tucker from the 249th Engineer Battalion, Alpha Company, Prime Power, competes in one of the apprentice mystery events during the 38th International Lineman’s Rodeo at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, on Oct. 15, 2022. USACE PHOTO BY REAGAN ZIMMERMAN

“We are the force that brings sustainability to the battle front,” Jordan said. “We build, sustain and support.”

Many Prime Power soldiers, even some that attended the rodeo, are either actively supporting or just finished supporting NRF missions in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian, and in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona.

“I went from Florida directly to [Kansas] after being in Florida for about two weeks,” Staff Sgt. Rafiqy Tucker of Alpha Company out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, said.

His team, and many others across Florida and Puerto Rico, traveled to locations prior to the hurricanes to pre-stage a response effort and activated after the hurricane to provide temporary emergency power. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is helping to coordinate, run and facilitate the temporary emergency power missions in both Florida and Puerto Rico.

“[Our mission is] to kick out generators and restore temporary emergency power to facilities that are deemed by FEMA as mission critical. Typically [the mission critical] facilities are hospitals, prisons, nursing homes and water distribution plants,” Capt. Adam Hamilton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District project engineer, said.

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Hak, assigned to the 249th Engineer Battalion, Delta Company, Prime Power, competes in the Journeyman Buddy Rescue Event during the 38th International Lineman’s Rodeo at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, on Oct. 15, 2022. U.S. ARMY RESERVE PHOTO BY SGT LUCAS REMILLARD

Hamilton is part of USACE Northwestern Division’s Power Planning and Response Team and is currently serving as a power mission commander on a temporary emergency power mission in Puerto Rico. Hamilton works with Prime Power soldiers every day in the field.

“[Prime Power’s] most important thing is assessments. When someone requests a generator, we send them out immediately to go recon a site. They will deem whether that site needs a generator. If it [needs one], then they need to figure out what generator would be suitable for that site… They use their technical expertise to determine if and at what level the site is powered,” Hamilton said.

Though they are not restoring powerlines like they are at the Lineman’s Rodeo, their industry skills still transfer into these emergency situations.

“[Understanding] the lineman facet is very beneficial because if I need to figure out the power coming into a building for a generator, I can go and look at their overhead lines and say, they have this many insulators, this many lines coming off of the transformer and this is the way this system is set up, so it is most likely this voltage or power coming into this building and can then pick a generator,” Tucker said. “I don’t get to do the job of climbing up the pole all the time but having that skill set definitely is beneficial because it allows me greater insight into how utilities systems are set up.”

Events like the Lineman’s Rodeo help Prime Power soldiers train for all types of situations, so that when they are called to fulfill a mission, they will exceed the expectations.

“The outstanding Non-commissioned Officers that have remained flexible and able to execute beyond expectation repeatedly are just awesome. I’ve been able to work with Prime Power two times now and they continue to impress me every time,” Hamilton said.

Journeyman Results Top 30%:

64. 249th EN BN C Co (Prime Power) – Jason Wilson, William Coleman, Steven Fargo

Apprentice Results Top 30%:

33. 249th EN BN HHC (Prime Power) – Luis Davila

Full results can be found here.

This story featured in the 2022-2023 print and digital edition of America’s Engineers: The People, Programs, and Projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers