USACE Memphis District Christens, Welcomes Replacement $25.5M Bank Grading Unit

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a christening ceremony held on the afternoon of May 2 at a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)

Event attendees included Mississippi Valley Division Commander Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Memphis District leadership including District Commander Col. Brian Sawser and Deputy District Commander Lt. Col. Robert Green, the new Bank Grading Unit project delivery team and project partners, as well as several members from the Memphis District employee and retiree community.

Vessel christenings are widely considered an important part of nautical culture with many associated customs practiced for centuries now. While variations exist, the overall purpose of the christening is to request sacred protection for the vessel and her crew while navigating the vast waterways of the world.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)

Breaking a bottle of champagne (or wine) on the bow of a boat is traditionally done to bestow good luck upon both the vessel and her crew. However, if the bottle fails to break, it’s considered a bad omen, leaving the vessel and crew cursed with bad luck, according to superstition.

Despite the risk of cursing the crew, champagne-breaking is a ceremony focal point, and to perform it is considered a great honor. Needless to say, retiree Carl Hammitte, Sr., the man selected for the task, was very honored to take part in a day as momentous as a christening.

Hammitte filled Memphis District roles of Rivers and Harbors construction and maintenance foreman, as well as bank grading unit operator, holding that role from 2013 up until his retirement in 2019.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)

While Hammitte had an accomplished and fulfilling career with years of leaders commending him for his exceptional work ethic, character, and leadership, he never would’ve guessed his post-retirement life would’ve included something as extraordinary as this.

And just like everything else he accomplished throughout his career, he executed the task with precision and ease, champagne splashing and a glass shattering over the units bucket as though he’d been practicing for years.

It was with that break that District Commander, Col. Sawser, gave the order to officially, “Place her in service to the Memphis District, the Mississippi Valley Division, and the inland waterways of all the United States of America.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a May 2 christening ceremony on a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. (USACE Image)

In addition to the christening, the event also highlighted the importance of the new grader, being that the bank grading unit is an essential part of the revetment work USACE does along the Mississippi River.

Revetment operations primarily prepare riverbanks for the placement of articulated concrete mattress (ACM), from the Mississippi River water’s edge out to the toe of the riverbank slope.

Completing revetment operations on a yearly basis ultimately supports riverbank stabilization and protection, navigation channel alignment support, and a front line of defense for levees along the river.

Even with these offered benefits, revetment is most fruitful only if operations are successfully executed. With equipment as old as the district’s vintage BGU, a 1949 dragline model, oftentimes the most significant season outcome was the number of times the BGU engine failed and caused delays in revetment.

Now, with Grader 1 christened and ready for service, not only will revetment operations benefit, but so too will other important projects and mission initiatives. 

For additional information regarding the bank grading unit, revetment operations, the channel improvement program, and more, please visit the USACE Memphis District Website.

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