April 22, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - All the signs are here - the bright sun, melting snow and ice, neighborhood cookouts and military convoys on the roads heading to southern training areas. It's officially springtime in Alaska.
Although training is a year-round activity for Soldiers, vehicles and convoys are more visible on Alaskan roads during warm-weather months.
"You don't see a lot of vehicles on the roads in the winter just because we can't run our vehicles on the roads then," said CW2 John Mulrooney, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade mobility officer. "It's just not safe to do so and we will mitigate safety at all costs. We schedule our ranges so we are not running them in the wintertime."
Increased military vehicles on Alaska's roadways are just another part of this time of year at Fort Wainwright, but Soldiers and civilian employees who work to keep convoys safe said there are safety precautions that every driver should keep in mind when encountering them on the road.
"When passing a convoy, be sure that you are in the legal passing lane to pass and ensure that you have enough room to get in between the vehicles," said Larry Wolterman, Directorate of Logistics Deployment Support branch supervisor. "They're spaced far enough so you can pass one and maybe two at a time."
Some of the biggest safety obstacles convoys encounter are wildlife, narrow roadways and other drivers passing unsafely, said Sgt. 1st Class April Letourneau, mobility noncommissioned officer, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
Passing a convoy, a line of more than five vehicles, on the roads is often necessary since their maximum speed is 45 mph, she said.
"People need to realize that on the highways we go 45 mph because we have large, armored vehicles and the armored plating is very heavy so if we go slower it makes it easier for us to stop in a hurry. We are basically the same weight as a tractor trailer, just more compact," she explained.
The last vehicle in a convoy will have signage indicating that a convoy is ahead and all oversized vehicles, like the Stryker, will have signs indicating that they are oversized. In addition to not exceeding 45 mph, or the posted speed limit, whichever is less, vehicles within the convoy will remain 50 meters apart, Letourneau said.
From slower speed limits to required signage, convoy drivers and mobility officers work diligently to adhere to all safety guidelines.
"Our responsibility is to ensure that (convoys) follow the Alaska Department of Transportation regulations to be sure that they're legal and to be sure that the vehicles are safe and are able to go on Alaska roads," Wolterman said.
He and his staff process approximately five to 10 convoys per week this time of year and work closely with unit commanders to ensure safety remains the number one priority.
"The convoy commanders brief their convoy drivers very well. They know what to do in case of accidents or in case of breakdowns," he said.
Drivers complete 40 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of driver training to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to maneuver a military vehicle. Additionally, more experienced, trained drivers ride with new drivers, Letourneau said.
"Our young leaders are the ones making it all happen. These are the guys who are making sure that it's not just the oil, not just the tires, not just the windshields, but that the drivers are trained; they've gone through all the right gates to allow them to operate the vehicle," Mulrooney said. "So that's where the real rubber meets the road, so to speak, when putting convoys together."
When driving on Fort Wainwright, Letourneau said convoys do not use roads through housing areas or school zones and only use main thoroughfares, company and motor pool areas.
"Our drivers are trained and we are professionals. What we are doing here prepares us for future deployments," she said. "We appreciate the public's support."