Fort Richardson undergoing $19 million upgrade

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Two large combat training courses under construction on Fort Richardson will provide soldiers with areas to train for urban combat.

The range has pop-up targets, tunnels, trenches, buildings, surprise explosions and a mock urban street nicknamed Dodge City.

Once finished this fall, the $19-million upgrade will contain more than 140 targets and other obstacles spread among a dozen locations, according to project managers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage and general contractor Alutiiq Management Services LLC.

After vegetation grows back, the obstacles will blend into the forest to produce a realistic setting for squads and platoons on foot.

Combat instructors will be able to monitor how soldiers do on the course through an array of hidden infrared video cameras.

Some targets will spring up like enemy combatants, then zip away on tracks as though fleeing for cover, said Mark Kelliher, resident engineer with the U.S. Army Corps on Fort Richardson. Others will loom as the silhouette of an armored vehicle or tank.

''I sort of call it 'soldier's Disneyland,' '' said Alutiiq construction manager Chris Dillon. ''It's amazing the technology that they're putting them through.''

The range upgrades have been under construction since November. They are part of a plan to prepare portions of the 62,000-acre military base to serve as a training ground for a new Stryker Brigade, an infantry unit that travels and fights using light-armored eight-wheeled vehicles. The 19-ton vehicles will start arriving at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks next year.

Over the winter, the project has provided work for about 90 people at Alutiiq and several subcontractors, Dillon said.

The company, a subsidiary of Afognak Native Corp., built many components and buildings at its warehouse at Point MacKenzie industrial park over the winter, allowing it to push the entire project almost a year ahead of its original completion date in 2004, Dillon and Army corps officials said.

Much of the work so far has focused on site preparation, moving earth and digging trenches for fiber-optic and power cables. The company has installed about 100 features over the past two weeks and plans to erect the first support building in early July. Another contractor will install the targets later.

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