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East Lyme — Deep in the woods at the Stone's Ranch military reservation Wednesday, two teams of soldiers gathered on an old airstrip to set up and dismantle the bridge known as the "transformer."
Earning its nickname from the way it unfolds off the back of a truck, the dry support bridge can be assembled in 90 minutes so tanks and other vehicles can cross gaps of up to 40 meters. Soldiers are using them in Afghanistan to go across irrigation canals and riverbeds.
The Connecticut National Guard's 250th Engineer Company received four of the bridge sets three weeks ago. The New London-based company used to spend up to a day— and sometimes longer — setting up a medium girder bridge.
The dry support bridge is less labor-intensive because of its hydraulics. Eight people can set it up, instead of 30.
"It's quick, in and out," said First Lt. Steven Schlusemeyer, the officer in charge at the training Wednesday.
Overseas, Schlusemeyer said, bridges are "a big target" so the less time soldiers spend standing near them, the better.
Each bridge set costs between $4 million and $5 million depending on the cost of aluminum, said David Shaw, the training officer for the British manufacturer, WFEL Limited. Shaw and several other WFEL employees were at Stone's Ranch to show the engineer company how the 35-ton bridge works.
The U.S. Army has received 85 systems so far and ordered more, Shaw said. The bridges have been used in war zones, he said, but also across the United States in places where severe weather damaged existing bridges.
The engineer company is the first Guard unit in the state to receive the dry support bridge, and no other unit is currently slated to get it. The company, which returned from Iraq in 2010, is not currently scheduled to deploy.