The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District officially launched its new, $25.5 million Bank Grading Unit (BGU), “Grader 1”, with a christening ceremony held on the afternoon of May 2 at a boat ramp located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
Event attendees included Mississippi Valley Division Commander Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Memphis District Commander Col. Brian Sawser, Grader 1's project delivery team and project partners, and several members from the Memphis District Employee and Retiree Communities.
Vessel christenings are widely considered an important part of nautical culture with many associated customs practiced for centuries now. While variations do exist, the overall purpose is to request protection for the vessel and crew while navigating the waterways of the world.
While traditionally done to bestow luck upon the vessel and her crew, if the bottle fails to break, it is considered a bad omen, leaving the vessel and crew cursed with bad luck.
But, despite any of the risks involved with breaking champagne during a christening, it is considered the focal point of the event, and to perform the act is deemed one of great honor.
Selected for Grader 1's christening was retiree Carl Hammitte, Sr. While at the Memphis District, Hammitte held the positions of construction and maintenance foreman and then from the year 2013 up until his retirement in 2019, he was the operator of the District's legacy Bank Grading Unit.
Stepping up to christen the new grader, Hammitte proclaimed, “In the name of the United States, I christen thee Grader 1, Bless her and all her crew.”
The audience cheered and the champagne bottle shattered to pieces, Memphis District Commander Col. Sawser moved forward to officially complete the nautical tradition and order the new BGU Operator, David Boeckmann, to officially place Grader 1 in service to the Memphis District, the Mississippi Valley Division and the inland waterways of the United States of America.
“Bring her to life!” Boeckmann commanded. And with one strong blast of the horn, Grader 1 made it official, announcing her arrival for duty.
While christenings are meant for celebrating new additions to the fleet, they're also fitting times to highlight mission priorities and the ways in which new additions will contribute to these initiatives. The new grading unit, for example, is an essential component of revetment operations.
Revetment primarily prepares riverbanks for articulated concrete mattress (ACM) placement from the river's edge out to the toe of the riverbank slope.
Laying and placing ACM ultimately creates a protective barrier up and down the Mississippi Riverbanks; this supports riverbank protection and stabilization, navigation channel alignment support, and a line of defense for levees along the river.
The revetment mission is highly critical, yet it is only advantageous if and when equipment is functioning and the job is successfully completed -- this is where the district's legacy bank grading unit was causing problems.
With the dragline model approaching just under 75 seasons, the grader required a substantial amount of maintenance and repair work to keep it running; and even with that, the unit still broke down a total of 26 days due to catastrophic engine failure. The breakdowns aren't just frustrating to the BGU crew, but also to the Mat Sinking Unit, as they must wait for the grader to complete their work before laying concrete mattress.
Given the importance of the revetment mission, the necessity of navigable waterways for our river industry, and the numerous ways in which nautical transportation supports commerce and the nation, the $25.5 million spent on the new bank grader will likely pay for itself within the next decade.
"Grader 1 will be more reliable than the legacy grader, have a much smaller maintenance cost, and speed up the overall process of bank grading on the Mississippi River," Project Manager Jake Storz said. "Not only will revetment operations benefit, but other mission areas, district and USACE initiatives, projects, and, the nation and everyone living in it."
For additional information regarding the bank grading unit, revetment operations, the channel improvement program, and more, please visit the USACE Memphis District Website.