Push it forward: Human Resources soldiers train to process mail
August 23, 2012
FORT DEVENS, Mass. - Hundreds of soldiers gather for training during a New England summer day at one of Fort Devens' motor pools. The small installation is just an hour from Boston Harbor, and the humidity caused by last night's rainfall is pushing the day's peak temperatures.
With the hot conditions, most of the soldiers participating in this year's Silver Scimitar exercise (Aug. 1-14) have removed their uniform jackets. The electric fans scattered throughout the old buildings are providing little comfort while they unload vans full of mail bags and packages.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Adams, one of the trainers, pushes his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose and calls out an almost rhetorical question: "What happens if it starts raining?"
Adams catches a few puzzled looks and exchanged glances among the Soldiers before saying, "You move with a quickness! Try to keep everything as dry as possible. Mail still has to be delivered - a storm is not a show-stopper."
An inscription on the building of New York's General Post Office on 8th Avenue reads: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." The saying has become something of a creed among civilian postal workers.
A lack of training won't be a factor either for these soldiers. These human resources professionals are in the first day of a culminating training event that puts several days of classroom instruction into practical experience on conducting post office operations.
Silver Scimitar participants are a mix of active duty, Guardsmen, and reservist Soldiers who are generally within 180 days of a pending deployment. The training these Soldiers receive includes how to operate a theater gateway during deployment, processing inbound and outbound Soldiers. Classroom instruction introduces new doctrine and current standing operating procedures.
"Here they teach us how to set up a post office, how to tear down a post office, and how to run it day-to-day," said Spc. Adrian Chambliss, human resources, 22nd Human Resources Company. "We have subject-matter experts, people who had just come back from places like Kuwait to help teach the classes. They give Soldiers a feel for how it is going to be downrange."
Specialist Richard Chmielinski keeps his top on, as do the two dozen Soldiers with him from 22nd HRC, who travelled from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. It adds to his professional appearance, if not his comfort. Their supervisor and student group leader is former drill sergeant Staff Sgt. Shawnta Hernandez, who's taken to referring to her Soldiers as "highly-motivated postal warriors."
"When it comes to mail handling in theater, the task falls to HR Soldiers, not necessarily logistics and supply. We have security clearances, we're entrusted with confidential information; it makes sense," Chmielinski said.
Postal operations are not taught during advanced individual training for human resources Soldiers, and it is not a task routinely trained at most Army installations, let alone at unit level.
A few of the Soldiers training attended a five-week postal operations course at Fort Jackson, S.C. to learn about the automated military postal system, the postal supply system, postal supply and the regulations related to their work.
Those Soldiers have the additional skill identifier of F5, and Soldiers participating in Silver Scimitar fulfill their annual training requirement on postal operation systems.
For the purposes of training during Silver Scimitar, Soldiers take turns role-playing as postal customers assigned a set of difficulty factors to present to each scenario.
"Some might be trying to send unauthorized materials, some may be missing the proper forms for their packages," said Chmielinski, a native of West Palm Beach, Fla.
Though in different locations, Adams and Chmielinski both worked in postal operations in the last days of the U.S. Army's Operation New Dawn in Iraq.
"The postal facility we had at (Contingency Operations Center) Warhorse was more than twice the size of what we're working with here," Chmielinski said. "Over the course of six months we processed something like 1.5 million lbs. of mail."
For the postal exercise, the 22nd HRC Soldiers are assigned to a mockup facility simulating Bagram Air Force Base's mail processing hub in Afghanistan. Nearby is a building staffed with Soldiers training in a replica of Kuwait's post office, and elsewhere on Fort Devens are mail processing centers representing Germany and Korea.
"Before coming here, a lot of us have never worked with the postal system consisting of the monitor, the labels and the scale," Chambliss said. "I think this training is very beneficial for Soldiers who do what we do; I'm certainly getting a lot out of the training."
As most of the participants here will deploy within the next few months, Silver Scimitar presents a few opportunities to sharpen basic Soldier skills as well.
A few hours into the day's postal exercise, Adams sets off smoke and loud pyrotechnics at the mockup Afghanistan Post Office. He plays a message through loudspeakers informing everyone on-site about an indirect fire attack.
Confused scrambling begins as the Soldiers react, but as some take cover under tables and desks, others begin to follow suit and wait out the "attack." Soldiers assigned as the quick reaction force respond moments later, securing the area.
Others on the QRF arrive with stretchers, and when the loudspeakers announce a call for accountability, the Soldiers rush to take care of their casualties - made easily identifiable by latex prosthetics that simulate gory battle wounds.
When the wounded were medically evacuated, Soldiers worked to put the post office back together and continue with the mission.
After the two-week course consisting of various systems and scenarios, the Silver Scimitar soldiers can now deploy with more experience and knowledge to do their wartime missions.
Neither heat, nor rain, nor attacks shall hinder the Army's postal deliveries.