Golden Cargo plays it safe
July 13, 2012
MCALESTER, Okla. (July 13, 2012) -- The heat shimmers off of the concrete pad amidst a flurry of activity. Forklifts honk and beep as they back up carrying stacks and stacks of the crated 105 mm rounds used by tanks and artillery.
The heat, trucks, and heavy pallets of ammunition being loaded, give the offloading pad here at McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (MCAAP) in McAlester Okla., a busy atmosphere.
U.S. Navy Reserve Chief Gregory Graves stands by, watching intently to make sure that in all the busyness, accidents don't happen.
Graves is part of Golden Cargo 2012, an annual training operation that has military servicemembers working together with civilians to handle the potentially dangerous job of loading and strategically shipping munitions across the western United States.
"We use a lot of observers and ground guides, each forklift has its own ground guide," said Graves without taking his eyes off his crew.
The observers watch the personnel and sometimes direct forklift traffic to stop accidents before they happen. A heavy forklift could easily damage a round of ordnance, making it unsafe to fire. Also, the sheer weight of the machine could cause serious injury if someone stepped in its path.
The Sailors of the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 12 and Soldiers of the 802nd Ordnance Company, who fall under the 457th Motor Transportation Battalion during the exercise, are easily spotted in their bright fluorescent reflector belts--usually worn for visibility during physical fitness training. Civilians wear fluorescent vests as part of their safety attire.
The MCAAP employees also don hardhats before coming onto the loading pads. The military usually prefer their Advanced Combat Helmets.
As a Hull Technician, Millsbrook, Ala., native, Graves has overseen dozens of operations and has been deployed several times. "Anywhere there is a port or a terminal," he explained. This is his second year participating in Golden Cargo.
According to Graves, the pace of the training operation is typical of a deployment schedule, which can be well more than 12 hours in the blazing sun, an additional hazard.
For this reason, the MCAPP has constructed a cooling area fabricated from shipping containers, where Soldiers and Sailors take the required breaks mandated by the heat category.
Staff Sgt. James T. Bonds of the 802nd ensures that the cooling area is well stocked with water so that military-issued Camelback-style hydration systems can be refilled.
"You have to keep an eye on your battle buddy out here. It just takes a moment of losing your focus, and someone could get hurt," said Bonds.
Since Golden Cargo participants come from many different states and climates, medics marked by a huge red cross on their med-kits roam the concrete pad to ensure that Soldiers and Sailors are getting acclimatized properly to the brutal Oklahoma heat. They are also on hand to provide instant first aid in the event of an accident.
The MCAAP commander and the post's sole full-time military member, Col. Timothy D. Beckner, reminded troops on their first day of arrival of the need for safety when working around heavy equipment and munitions.
"Make sure you're doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right uniform, with the right equipment," said Beckner.
Former Army Command Sgt. Maj. and now MCAAP Chief of Military Affairs, Sammie R. Kinchion, reinforced Beckner's urge for safety above all during the two-week operation.
"We don't care if you only move one box of ammunition, we want you to do it safely," said Kinchion.