No bridge? No problem. National Guard Soldiers bring the solution

Photo story shows California Army National Guard practicing 'wet gap-crossing operations' aka bridging, during annual training

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District
Published May 18, 2024

Crewmembers hurry from the deck of the IRB, taking positions to safely guide two Joint Light Tactical Vehicles onto shore.

Visitors to Sacramento District’s Black Butte Dam and Lake in Orland, California, had the opportunity to catch more than fish and scenic lake views from April 29-May 3. On one stretch of lake, visitors also caught a glimpse of how the California Army National Guard can create a floating, mobile bridge in a matter of minutes.

The 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company out of Redding, California, dropped by for their weeklong annual training exercise to keep Soldiers sharp on how to assemble and disassemble IRB’s – Improved Ribbon Bridges – in order to rapidly move Soldiers, vehicles and equipment across lakes and rivers. Officially known as wet gap-crossing operations, the team of Soldiers create a floating bridge made up of interlocking sections that are latched together. The IRB system offers two capabilities for crossing bodies of water: one is to create a floating bridge and drive or walk across it, and the other is to load it with tracked or wheeled combat or tactical vehicles and then ferry it around a lake or river using small but powerful Bridge Erection Boats to position it.

IRB’s have seen extensive combat operations with the Army and Marine Corps since 2003, when they were used by U.S. forces to cross the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers during the invasion of Iraq. The importance of being able to quickly set up and break down IRBs becomes readily apparent when considering doing so under fire.

A five-section bridge can be assembled in as little as 20 minutes … if the team is well-trained.

Take a look at the below picture story of the California Army National Guard’s 132nd making sure they’re well-trained and ready when called upon!

Above and below, visitors to Black Butte Dam and Lake – a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District Project – had an opportunity to catch some action when members of the California Army National Guard’s 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company took part in their annual training starting on April 29, 2024.

Under the scrutiny of 1st Sgt. Alberto Ruesga, right, Spc. Jorge Avalos uses hand signals to help boat operators move the floating bridge alongside the dock, then signals where to stop to ensure the front loading ramp will touch the ground.

When positioned onshore, crewmembers jump into action and manually lower (and raise) the loading ramp by rocking these levers back in forth in tandem.

Once the loading ramp is in contact with the ground, the mobile bridge can take on soldiers, equipment, and vehicles. Here, a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is directed toward the front ramp for loading.

A ribbon bridge transport truck is driven onto the IRB. Each individual bridge section is 22.7 feet long and 28.3 feet wide. The five section bridge seen here is 113 feet long and capable of holding the weight of an M1A2 Abrams tank – around 68 tons!

Safety is a priority, and 1st Sgt. Alberto Ruesga, left, and Cpt. Michael Lyons keep a watchful eye on the crew and procedures at all times.

Once the vehicles are loaded, the entire bridge can become a mobile platform that is pushed across the lake by Bridge Erection Boats.

Spc. Noah Bishop is one of two boat operators who lash their boats to the IRB and coordinate their efforts to guide it across the lake.

Spc. Jorge Avalos spots the landing site across the lake and guides the boat operators in for a landing.

Arriving at the landing spot, visitors to the lake are treated to a surprise visit and some free entertainment as the five-section IRB is guided to a position along the shore.

Above, crewmembers hurry from the deck of the IRB, then take positions to safely guide two Joint Light Tactical Vehicles onto shore, below.

With the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles safely offloaded, the IRB departs the landing site, and the platform is again manually raised – very likely leaving the visitors along the shoreline with a story to tell.

When breaking down the Improved Ribbon Bridge, some sections can become difficult to disassemble, but crewmembers work together and overcome this stubborn section. Below, Boat crewmembers work with the IRB crew to detach equipment from the IRB.

Once a section of the IRB is detached, it is lashed to a Bridge Erection Boat and hustled back to shore to be mounted on vehicles specifically designed to carry one section each.

Above and below, when lifted by the truck’s mechanical arm and winch, each section of the IRB neatly folds itself into a cylindrical container that is mechanically loaded onto its own truck.

The IRB section is then hauled from the lake, and the California Army National Guard’s 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company is ready for their next mission!


Find out how the National Guard improve Black Butte Lake and Dam, while gaining vital heavy equipment training.