News story

TA soldiers on exercise in South Dakota

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

British Territorial Army (TA) soldiers training in the United States have been working on a community project with US and Danish allies.

Fifty-five Reservists from Gateshead-based 72 Engineer Regiment are taking part in the 3,500-strong US training exercise known as Golden Coyote, which trains the South Dakota National Guard for overseas operations whilst working on a series of local construction projects to develop the surrounding area.

One of the construction tasks is building a new costume house for the Black Hills Playhouse which performs to over 35,000 patrons during their 3-month season.

The theatre managed to raise $150,000 for materials but were unable to fund the construction in time to replace the condemned 1930s wooden structure being used without the support of the military.

Forty-six soldiers from the US, Denmark and the UK have been allocated to the construction task, which needs to be completed within the 2-week exercise.

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard took time out to visit the project and talk with some of the British reservists.

Danish soldiers and Sergeant Derran Howe (centre)
Danish soldiers and Sergeant Derran Howe (centre) helping to build a new costume house for the Black Hills Playhouse [Picture: Corporal Steve Blake RLC, Crown copyright]

One of the soldiers Governor Daugaard met as his helicopter landed was Barnsley reservist Sergeant Derran Howe who works as a foreman for Pickfords in his civilian life.

Sergeant Howe, who has been in the Reserves for nearly 16 years, said:

It’s fantastic working on projects like this. I wish we could do more like it in Britain as it really gives you a sense of purpose to be working on something that is going to last and will benefit others.

I’ve spoken to a few of the locals and they really appreciate us being here – you can see by the way they are with you that it means a lot to them.

The job I’m doing on the build at the moment is not something I’ve done before – I’m edging the windows – but it’s not that hard, and I want to do it right so I don’t let the site manager down and obviously leave a good impression about our work.

Governor Dennis Daugaard chats to Sergeant Derran Howe
During his visit to Custer State Park, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard chats to Sergeant Derran Howe [Picture: Corporal Steve Blake RLC, Crown copyright]

The construction task is ahead of schedule, with secondary fitters from the US Army due to complete the task on their next camp.

Touring the site, Governor Daugaard said:

It’s great to see training being done not just in a way that builds skills but also creates value. And they are doing a great job.

Seeing the South Dakota National Guards working alongside troops from other nations is a wonderful thing because we know that in a real-world environment when there is a military need in Afghanistan or Iraq, or any other part of the world where there is conflict, we will often work together as NATO troops or as a multinational force.

So it makes all kinds of sense to practise together so we are ready when we need to serve in the real world together.

The new costume house under construction
The new costume house for the Black Hills Playhouse takes shape [Picture: Corporal Steve Blake RLC, Crown copyright]

The Black Hills Playhouse project is one of several being undertaken by 72 Engineer Regiment. Other tasks include restoring 5 dilapidated bridges and building 2 new fishing piers, together with steps up a steep embankment for military veterans to use, and fitting a kilometre of safety fencing along the annual buffalo herding route through Custer State Park.

The work makes all the difference to the state-funded park in the Black Hills, which employs only 34 full-time staff to maintain its 71,000 acres of land and herd of 1,300 wild buffalo.

Soldiers working on a fishing pier
Ranger Jayme Severyn (second left) watches a soldier from 72 Engineer Regiment working on one of the fishing piers [Picture: Corporal Steve Blake RLC, Crown copyright]

Ranger Jayme Severyn, who is responsible for all the building work in the park, said:

We couldn’t do everything ourselves, so it’s great having the National Guard and British Army engineers here working on the construction tasks as it frees us up to do the other things we need to do across the grounds.

The soldiers add real value to the park, but the work also allows them to practise their engineering skills. So we select projects together that will benefit their training and our requirements.

The multinational exercise, which concludes on 22 June, is one of the United States longest-running National Guard exercises. It is now in its 29th year and includes reservist contingents from the United States, Canada, the UK and Denmark.

Danish soldiers working on a bridge
Danish soldiers working on repairs to a bridge in the Custer State Park [Picture: Corporal Steve Blake RLC, Crown copyright]