NEW RICHMOND -- “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” 

Although this motto is generally associated with the United States Post Office it could well have applied to the dedicated group of soldiers from the Army’s 652nd Engineer Company based out of Hammond who overcame challenging weather conditions this spring to complete the foundation for a lengthy section of the Freedom Park Trail. 

If you happened to have traveled that stretch of County CC/Wall Street running north from Highway 64 parallel to Freedom Park you could not miss the heavy equipment waging war against the relentless rain to construct a stable foundation for the trail.

The trail project made it onto the Extended Combat Training schedule for the 652nd thanks to the efforts by Ken House and fellow members of VFW Post 10818 New Richmond/St. Croix County. 

Following boot camp, soldiers are tested and assigned a military occupation specialty. Soldiers in the Army Reserve are required to complete 12 days of ECT training with their speciality group annually, in this case, engineering for the 652nd. 

During these stints, soldiers receive advanced individual training; in the case of the 652nd, that includes operating heavy equipment like bulldozers, cranes, graders, backhoes and dump trucks. The training is designed to employ their skills both individually and as a unit to provide solutions to real life construction project challenges.

A number of the members of the 652nd work in construction careers outside of the military while others work in completely unrelated fields.

The 652nd was tasked with removing the topsoil and then backfilling with a combination of crushed rock, gravel and sand to establish a firm foundation for the trail all while maintaining the proper elevation and avoiding the nearby newly planted corn crop. Add to that the seemingly endless rain and you had the military’s version of a tough mudder. 

“Other than we wish the rain hadn’t come to hinder our progress. It’s even better training to have guys running some mud from time to time. If they can run in the mud, they’ll be able to work in dry ground easy,” explained Lt. Bryce Ducharme.

Serving those who serve

On the bright side, even though the 652nd came prepared with tents and meals ready to eat, the New Richmond community stepped up.

In addition to House’s routine delivery of coffee and sweet rolls, numerous passersby stopped on the side of the road to deliver the troops an assortment of refreshments from banana bread to energy drinks. Other groups including the Cedar Creek Inn and members of the New Richmond Senior Center took turns delivering breakfasts. Area Scouting programs also provided meals while Alderman Craig Kittel sprang for lunch on behalf of the Park Board.

Soldiers were able to shower at the nearby National Guard Armory and Village Laundry washed their clothes for free. 

“The citizens of New Richmond were outstanding,” said House. 

By the time the rain stopped and their training had come to an end, the troops had completed 1,300 feet of trail every foot appreciated by a grateful community.

Tom Lindfors is a western Wisconsin freelance journalist and former Star-Observer reporter. Contact him at tom@lindforsphoto.com

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