KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - One could call Pvt. JosAfA Ballesteros' description of placing his massive earthmover onto a railcar as a little understated.

When completing the maneuver, which Ballesteros calls a "little weird," he is sitting atop a 10-foot high vehicle - weighing more than 24 metric tons - and driving over a seven-inch metal block.

"It feels like you're going over something really big, and you might tip over ... because it's not on the ground," said Ballesteros, an M-9 Armored Combat Earthmover driver with the 40th Engineer Battalion.

The 40th Engineer Battalion conducted a railhead mission July 18 at the Railhead Operations Center on Rhine Ordnance Barracks, deploying 26 track vehicles for training exercises in GrafenwAfAPhr, Germany. This was the first of a three-day railhead mission for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from Baumholder.

Overall, the 2nd BCT deployed 150 track vehicles - including the M-9 ACE and the M2A2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle - to GrafenwAfAPhr, making this railhead mission the largest so far this year, said Maurice Jefferson, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern training specialist.

A railhead mission is the loading or unloading of vehicles and equipment for deployment downrange or redeployment to home station. It happens in the Kaiserslautern military community up to 10 times a year under the watchful eyes of the garrison's transportation and safety personnel.

"Safety is the number one issue during a railhead because there are a lot of moving parts," said Jefferson.

It's the deploying or redeploying units' Soldiers who carry out the railhead mission of loading or unloading equipment, but it's garrison personnel who take the lead by giving safety briefings, conducting risk assessments and watching every movement from the staging to the blocking and bracing of vehicles.

The garrison's safety manager, Melissa Hastings, said every railhead operation is different and watchful eyes are critical to ensure it runs smoothly and safely.

The equipment is being shipped for roughly 3,500 Soldiers from the 2nd BCT who will be conducting gunnery exercises in GrafenwAfAPhr for almost two months.

"We are going to do anywhere from individual rifles, pistols and machineguns to squad and platoon live fire exercises," said Lt. Col. Dominic Sparacio, 40th Engineer Battalion commander.

After training in GrafenwAfAPhr, the brigade will then head to Hohenfels to conduct a mission rehearsal exercise to be certified for its November deployment to Iraq.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16