When power goes off, Army linemen are on at Fort Leonard Wood

A Prime Power production specialist climbs a power pole to help the class during the final project of constructing a power distribution system. U.S. Army)
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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. When you think Army soldiers you often think tanks and machine guns.

Not power and light.

U.S. Army Soldiers fill many roles in a variety of career fields. One group of Army specialists serve by dangling from dozens of feet off the ground, restoring power during severe storms and handling wires that carry thousands of volts of electricity.

Soldiers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Prime Power production specialists with the 249th Engineer Battalion have earned their lineman skill identifier at the U.S. Army Prime Power School, Fort Leonard Wood.

"I chose to become a Prime Power production specialist when my neighbor talked to me about it while I was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia," Staff Sgt. Michael Elliott, Power Line Distribution Course-U4 instructor, said. "I used to do electrical work and never imagined that I would be able to further my interest in the electrical field while serving in the Army."

Each year, select noncommissioned officers earn their lineman skill identifier of U4 by adding an additional 10 weeks to their yearlong training program. The PLDC course was first offered on post in 2015, making the Prime Power School the Army's training institute for medium voltage power production and distribution.

"The Power Line Distribution Course includes everything from climbing a wood pole to operating aerial bucket trucks," Elliott said. "During the last two weeks of the course, students are given the specifications to construct a power distribution system."

Elliott said while the final capstone project is led entirely by students, instructors are there to ensure safety and provide guidance. The course prepares students to deploy throughout the world. In wartime, Army personnel are responsible for supporting Prime Power program missions.

"Knowing the Soldiers I have trained will someday help, either here in the United States or overseas, is the most rewarding aspect of my job," Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Ecker, PLDC-U4 senior instructor, said.

Ecker pointed out that while he did not deploy to Iraq as a lineman, his skills came in handy when he had to oversee the construction of an overhead distribution system. In peacetime, skills are maintained through training exercises, emergency deployments for disaster relief efforts, special purpose deployments and in support of the directors of public works at home and abroad.

Elliott added that his knowledge was significant after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in late October 2012. "We installed a power plant at a fuel depot," Elliott said. "This aided in the relief of the fuel shortage by allowing the depot to pump the needed fuel and fill its delivery trucks."

"It is very meaningful to see the results of the missions we accomplish," he added.

Congress approved a resolution in 2013 naming National Lineman Day for April 18.