If you build it…
August 26, 2012
A slightly cool, late August morning in California quickly became warm and bright and turned hot and brighter. TRANSWARRIOR 2012 is the mission. Lt. Col. Curtis "Rock" Henry, the Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO) of the 1394th Transportation Brigade (TB), prepared to give a ride for an operational overview of the mission that the 1394th TB is conducting at Fort Hunter Liggett (FHL), Calif., and Lt. Col. James "Beau" Eidt, G-7 Deputy Training Officer (G7), Deployment Support Command (DSC), went along to check on training.
TRANSWARRIOR is a pilot program of the 1394th TB and the DSC, of Birmingham, Ala., the command headquarters of the 1394th TB. Col. Ronald Lane, Commander, 1394th TB, and his staff saw a need in 2011 to develop a mission that would train their Soldiers in the critical facets of their military occupational specialties (MOS), mainly the 88 and 90 series. In coordinating the overall function of a command, the DSC developed several scenarios to train brigade and battalion staffs interacting with themselves and an ad hoc DSC staff developed for this exercise.
Henry commented about the practical goal of TRANSWARRIOR: "We are working to put Warrior back into transportation and putting the training back into annual training." He said later, "the exercise will focus on building expertise in the complex systems and individual and collective staff skills that are unique to these missions."
The 1394th TB is headquartered in Camp Pendleton, Calif. A good number of their Soldiers are from the West Coast, and are familiar with the weather, terrain, and sights of middle and southern California. Soldiers participating in TRANSWARRIOR 2012 came from battalions and detachments within the 1394th organizational structure and the 1395th Deployment Distribution Support Battalion (DDSB), one of the TBs units.
At this time of year, the only thing that is green are trees, bushes and vines. The ground is covered with different shades of brown vegetation that apparently is beaten by the continuous hot weather of the area. Wild animals roam freely through the uninhabited areas of FHL. On several occasions, we saw different types of deer and ground squirrels while driving between the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) that serve as training areas on FHL.
"We were looking for a realistic environment to train in," said Henry during the ride. Temperatures, the geography and climate of FHL are reasonably comparable with that of Afghanistan.
He said, "… in between FOBs is about eight miles." When you compare the usually longer distances that are between many FOBs in Afghanistan, this is good training in a realistic environment for the 1394th Soldiers. Driving through the terrain is unpaved uphill, downhill, curving roadways, with patches of green vegetation and the ever present sawgrass. "People think it is just tall grass; it is sawgrass, and it will rip your uniform up." It is difficult to maneuver through it. However, the Soldiers will not have to perform their missions in the sawgrass.
After about 20 minutes of driving from the headquarters building, we reach our first destination, FOB 8J. A simulated outline of the deck of a Landing Craft Utility (LCU) is laid out before us. The Soldiers configured an area of stony ground with large red thick emergency traffic barriers (5' x 1' x 4' each) to represent the deck. LCUs are carried aboard amphibious assault ships to the objective area and then land/retrieve troops and equipment during amphibious operations. At about 174 feet in total length, and 42 feet in width, the latest model can accommodate 2,500 square feet of equipment (for example: three M1 Main Battle Tanks). They have a load capacity of 350 tons. The 1394th TB Soldiers tested a vehicle load plan on the mock deck.
Simultaneously, subject matter experts from the United States Coast Guard Reserve (USCGR) Container Inspection Training and Assistance Team (CITAT), from Oklahoma City, Okla., taught a class on Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) in one of the three wooden structures at the site. For the transporter, they must be able to recognize not only the obvious posted signs of HAZMAT, but note potential storage areas that could combust or create dangerous conditions leading to an incident while stored.
Finishing the site visit, Henry drove out to the next FOB where the 1394th trained. During the drive, he briefly described some objectives of the training. The Soldiers have to learn all from the beginning, how to use the systems involved in organizing the materials, as well as doing the "grunt" work of getting the items onto a ship. "We are trying to simulate port operations. Usually in a classroom environment, the students start the story in the middle and work from there," said Henry.
Of course, to any NCO, and officer, backwards planning is a key step in troop leading procedures that any Soldier should have trained on since they learned it in their initial training. "Even for the instructors, the NCOs (noncommissioned officers) have to get into the midst of this and backwards plan," Eidt added.
After a 30-minute drive and seeing more wildlife, we reach FOB Ward. More barriers are laid out not only in the dimensions of a LCU, but that of a Fast Sealift Ship (FSS). Lt. Col. William Gordon, the project officer, ensured correct measurements while Soldiers moved the barriers to conform to correct shape of the FSS.
Sometime after the visit, Gordon said, "FSS transports heavy cargo, specifically military vehicles. It's configured to do this." The FSS is a self-sustaining vessel six decks deep that can hold 211 containers. Its primary mission is to rapidly transport equipment and supplies of heavy combat units. It is approximately 946 feet long by 105 feet wide. Its high speed is 27 knots. Gordon made a caveat to this - "Most ships will do only 19-20 knots in order to save fuel."
Gordon added, "It takes 48 to 60 hours to load, depending on the crew you have (their experience and training). It can go from Florida to Ash Shuaibah (Kuwait) in about 19 days."
In addition, he said, "we have eight to ten Soldiers (from 1394th units) to check the equipment daily. Sometimes tiedowns loosen, and have to be tightened, or the equipment shifts. They (Soldiers) are there for security and safety." He mentioned that the Military Sealift Command are in charge of the FSS and the ships are manned by civilians. The Soldiers are mainly there to assist the crew by guarding and securing the equipment.
Another goal of TRANSWARRIOR is to get Soldiers trained and licensed on the appropriate vehicles. Gordon commented, "We are trying to get as many people as we can licensed." Of course this will be valuable in maneuvering vehicles and loads in and around a port. Soldiers with previous drivers' training used their skills to drive tractor-trailers, and other vehicles onto the "deck" of the FSS, and loaded them in the proper configuration.
Support personnel setting up the scenarios had prepared for months to ensure this scenario would be intensive and challenging, have been on the ground for several weeks, and will continue to stay after the training ends. Later on, Henry remarked, "I have been here since August 1, and I won't leave until September 5."
To say that the training is realistic leaves much to be desired. Henry said, "we are trying to make sure everything's relevant to real training. We are introducing combat and combat fatigue, but not at the risk of safety. Even if Soldiers are cross leveled these are still needed skills. "He later added another dimension of guidance and support that is not often thought about -- leader and staff training. "It's important to train the staff sections also because sometimes we as leaders we are more focused on our Soldiers training and not always realize it's important to increase our skills. We can never do enough training and leaders can never receive enough training."
Climate, terrain, and comparability to the actual warfight are very important. Yes, setting up meaningful, realistic training does take up much time, effort, and support. However, TRANSWARRIOR is an example of how one command has developed its own training to test their Soldiers' MOS training, and enhance it to ensure their Warriors are ready for the next war or action.