Range managers maintain safety, schedule events
September 19, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When assault rifles, hand grenades and anti-tank weapons are a part of your day-to-day activities, you have to expect safety standards to be exceptionally high.
Fort Jackson's range operations require daily review not only to ensure that training is being conducted in a productive, beneficial manner, but to make sure people are not injured or killed. OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is just one of many organizations with high expectations of safety standards on post.
"OSHA rules are a little more flexible for military training, but we still have to go under OSHA rules and requirements," said John Wood, range operations manager for Fort Jackson.
"There are also TRADOC regulations, in respect to our obstacle courses, our conditioning courses and endurance courses," said Dud Lundy, chief of collective training for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
Even the most trivial aspects of training, such as how a Soldier crouches or leaps, are managed by federal regulations, he said.
"Everything we do is codified in Army regulations that tells us, 'This is what we're supposed to do to keep these ranges safe and to keep these ranges functional,'" Lundy said.
Fort Jackson occupies 52,000 acres, almost all of which fall under range operations to manage, Wood said.
"We're responsible for the stewardship of the entire training complex," he said. "Outside of the cantonment area, which is a very small portion of the actual land that Fort Jackson entails, we're covering roughly 52,000 acres. Of that, 46,000 acres come under the range complex."
These operations include 40 live-fire ranges and 25 miscellaneous ranges. The range operations office inspects these sites to make sure they are fit for use, and manages the training schedule for individual units. The schedule fills several walls of a conference room, with times, dates and unit listings stretching from floor to ceiling.
Ranges are in use six days a week, Lundy said. When one unit leaves, another usually arrives behind it. It's not uncommon for more than one unit to share a course for training.
"There are just so many (Soldiers) we have to get through in the course of a year," Lundy said. "The summer is the worst time. We call it the summer surge, primarily from April to about October, where the numbers are higher."
Schedules change weekly, sometimes daily. Training schedules can even be locked in six weeks in advance, Lundy said.
"As we're doing that, some changes will happen based on what a training commander or brigade commander wants to do," Lundy said, "or based on lessons learned in the last (training) cycle."
Training standards evolve as America's conflicts change, Wood said. In 1980, he said Basic Combat Training lasted six weeks. Now, it lasts 10 weeks.
"The content of the training has changed considerably," Wood said. "Now you're doing stuff that used to be left to the units. Back then, you just got the basics: How to shoot, how to march, how to look good in a uniform -- then you went to your first unit assignment and they taught you how to get ready for war."
The range operations office also manages how weapons and ammunition are handled, helping to control movement around individual ranges and ensure that drill sergeants and cadre have "positive control" of the facilities at all time.
"Remember, BCT is the initial entry level," Wood said. "These kids have never touched a weapon before, most likely. Today's kids don't hunt like they used to, so they don't have that experience of handling weapons ... especially military weapons."
Land management is also an issue for range operations. Not only does the office provide maps and land imagery, but land navigation and special use maps, as well.
There are also ecological considerations, such as erosion control, said Jim Moore, integrated training area management coordinator for Fort Jackson.
"We do a lot of land management" Moore said. "We have a biologist/range training land assessment person who works for us. She goes out and looks at how training is affecting lands and makes recommendations on switching areas that are being overused for foot traffic."
Wetlands and endangered species are also factors in managing the post's ranges.
"But training is our top priority," Moore said.A lot of the office's responsibilities take place after hours when ranges are empty, but Wood said inspectors make daily visits to ranges while they are in use.
"We try to hit every live-fire range that's active on a given day to make sure they've got everything they need and that they're doing it properly," Wood said.
The post's most dangerous range on post is the Night Infiltration Course, Wood said, because it involves live rounds.
"We have other degrees of danger, but all military training has an element of danger to it," he said. "That's the nature of the job -- learning how to overcome those fears safely, and to make sure you get the training necessary to prepare for war."