Washington Army Reserve Unit Faces Big Challenges During Deployment
October 14, 2011
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- More than 270 Washington-based Army Reserve soldiers of the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command arrived here Sept. 16 to begin their unit's first overseas deployment.
They face a daunting task: taking over the mission of overseeing the massive drawdown of equipment from Iraq before the December 31 deadline.
When that mission finishes, Task Force Rainier, as it's known, will assume responsibility for controlling all supply and logistics operations in the Mideast -- something that's never been handed to a reserve unit.
"This is the first time the unit, as the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, has been deployed forward," said Brig. Gen. Jonathan Ives, of Seattle, the task force's commanding general.
Ives oversees almost 4,000 soldiers, combining troops from the Army Reserve, active-duty Army, and National Guard.
It's a big responsibility, and Ives knows defense leadership is watching to see how the concept works.
"This is a very significant, and also historic, time for our nation as we close out our battle and development side and start to move towards governance and opportunities for Iraq," he said. "The unit formed quickly, and yet they've come together, they've bonded to form an excellent unit."
Ives' command heads up the task force. Based in Marysville, Wash., near Seattle, the 364th ESC was formed just two years ago. Under the Army's force-generation cycle, or ARFORGEN, deployment wasn't predicted until 2014 at the earliest.
That all changed on March 4 of this year.
"We received our alert and mobilization orders on the same day," Ives said. "Units often receive alert orders a year before their mobilization date."
The 364th ESC's mobilization date was set for July 28, just four months after its alert. At that time, the unit was at about half the authorized strength it would need for deployment. Human resources managers at the 364th went into action, searching personnel rosters from units across the country to find soldiers with specialties the unit would need to fulfill its historic mission.
"The biggest challenge was in finding personnel not only qualified for the duty position, but also had recent or actual hands-on experience," said Lt. Col. John Sweeney of Seattle, the 364th's personnel officer.
Additionally, the call went out across the Army Reserve for soldiers wishing to volunteer, an effort that filled out the 364th's roster.
"We [also] ensured personnel were scheduled for training at a military school or developed a local training program to enhance their qualifications," Sweeney said.
The end result: more than 270 soldiers from 39 states, two countries, and one U.S. territory, coming together to form a team.
In April, a little more than a month after the 364th ESC received its orders, the soldiers headed to Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. There, they underwent rigorous pre-deployment training in scenarios that mirrored what the troops might encounter in a combat zone.
The 364th's top enlisted soldier said he was excited about the Kuwait mission.
"I look forward to the challenges this position presents to me each and every day," said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Jennings, of Las Vegas. "Our training [here] prepares our soldiers individually and brings them together as a team to better prepare them for our mission in theater."
Jennings said he felt the 364th's mission was important because it will be the first time
an ESC is being used according to its doctrinal purpose, which is to provide deployable expeditionary command and control capabilities for echelons above brigade logistics units. Additionally, the ESC is designed to provide logistics command and control for the theater commander, with capability to support a worldwide mission.
Jennings said that despite the rapid growth of the 364th, the unit is poised for success. Some of the reason, he said, was due to the emphasis placed upon integration and teambuilding by the unit's command group, of which he is part.
"I believe our command group is special because they care," he said. "Not only about our fellow soldiers, but each member understands that it takes many different people to build a village."
After the 364th's July mobilization, the unit traveled to Fort Bliss, Texas, for six weeks of intensive training in sustainment operations. Soldiers conducted a series of command post exercises that ended with the unit's culminating training event, a week-long operation that validated the 364th for overseas service.
One of the soldiers who transferred into the 364th for its deployment said he has been pleased with what he's seen since joining the unit.
"The people in our section come from such diverse backgrounds and all seem to get along," said Master Sgt. Ricardo Ferdin, a San Antonio, Texas, native and an electronic missile technician with the 364th's support operations section.
"I feel like we work really well together," he said. "I have made a lot of friends from all over the country from this unit."
Ferdin is a 35-year Army Reserve veteran who was first sergeant of a maintenance company in Grand Prairie, Texas, before transferring to the Washington-based 364th ESC. He said learning all the acronyms unique to a sustainment command was "sometimes like learning a new language," but he recognized the importance of his mission.
"I oversee all of the transportation and readiness of various missiles," Ferdin said. "To me, my mission is important because I keep soldiers supplied and ready to do their missions."
Since the 364th's soldiers come from all over the U.S., their jobs and experiences vary widely. Some have deployed multiple times. For others, this is their first time overseas.
Spc. Senyon Gabourel of Los Angeles is a paralegal specialist with the 364th's staff judge advocate's office. The 27-year-old soldier is on her first deployment, and said the experience will improve her job skills.
"I feel like this [training] has made me dual-hatted as far as administrative law and legal assistance," she said. "I'm proud to be part of a mission that hasn't happened before, and I'm proud to be doing my job in SJA because we are all so committed to helping soldiers."
Gabourel said the staff judge advocate office is very involved at a general officer-command level, and that she was learning a great deal.
"SJA here is special because we are so proficient," she said. "We're all overachievers, and we always seem to be ready."
The 364th ESC expects to be overseas until sometime in 2012. Ives, the task force commander, said his unit was ready to take on whatever mission came its way.
"As the responsible drawdown of forces continues, we're committed to implementing the President's directive to have U.S. forces out of Iraq by year's end," he said. "By being here, we're able to make sure that happens and to help set the stage for stabilization in Iraq. Once that mission is complete, we'll be ready to continue to shape the sustainment picture throughout the Middle East."
Capt. Christopher Larsen, Sgt. Joseph Villines, and Cpl. Christopher Bigelow are the public affairs staff of the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.