Soldiers and Seabees work together for the long haul
December 6, 2012
MCALESTER, Okla. (July 20, 2012) -- Sgt. Jose C. Cortez of Bellview, Neb., loves his job as a motor transport operator with the 189th Transportation Detachment.
"I like to be on the road, you get to see new people and places," said Cortez.
This July, that road led him to McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (MCAAP), and some new faces were the Navy Seabees as the 189th supported Navy Cargo Handler Battalion 12's mission here in McAlester, Okla., during training operation Golden Cargo 2012.
Every year Golden Cargo uses military Reserve Component servicemembers to strategically reposition munitions and ordnance at storage facilities across the United States. This helps save taxpayer money, while at the same time giving servicemembers, like Cortez, the operating hours needed to maintain their skills and keep driver or forklift certifications up-to-date.
However, several members of NCHB-12--which falls under the 457th Transportation Battalion with the 189th as part of Task Force Lightning for the operation--are also Seabees, the famed Navy construction Sailors, and are required to maintain additional certification hours on bulldozers and other heavy equipment.
The Seabees set out to do this by accomplishing some of the continual environmental maintenance and construction projects required to maintain the 45,000 acres of MCAAP lands. This year the projects included leveling ground for new construction, clearing fields, creating firebreaks to protect the area from wildfires and creating water breaks to control erosion.
The ground leveling and water break projects in particular leave behind a lot of topsoil and fill dirt. In their planning, the Seabees decided to haul the dirt to an old landfill on MCAAP as part of another erosion prevention project. In order to get the slew of projects completed in only two weeks time, the NCHB-12 would have to enlist additional truck drivers.
When 189th detachment sergeant, Staff Sgt. Shawn R. Smith heard that the Sailors needed drivers to assist in the conservation efforts, he knew his unit could help.
"We linked up with the Seabees at the planning conference and heard what they were trying to accomplish and their need for drivers. Being a detachment of drivers, I knew we could definitely support their mission," said Smith.
Smith was also eager for his Soldiers, whose primary military occupation specialty is 88M (motor transport operator), to broaden their skill sets. "As an '88 Mike' everyone thinks you only drive one specific vehicle, but you need to be able to drive anything that rolls," Smith said.
Chief Petty Officer Terry R. Scantlen, a McAlester resident who drives every month to Bessemer, Ala., to serve as senior enlisted leader of NCHB-12, was happy to oblige. He said his Seabees often take the role as instructor, providing training to civilians and other servicemembers. "It's in the Seabees to train," said Scantlen. Shortly after the 189th arrived at McAlester, Scantlen set up dump truck training and the Soldiers went to work hauling loads of dirt.
The 189th caught on quickly. They parked their Palletized Load System vehicles and picked up keys to heavy-duty, diesel powered dump trucks.
"Driving a dump truck is pretty similar, there's just a couple of new controls to learn," said Cortez.
Traveling the back roads of the 70-square mile facility, the 189th took to operating the new vehicles without missing a beat.
"In one day they drove 1,200 miles and hauled 600 tons of dirt," said Scantlen.
The Navy and Army have worked well together and Smith said the experience has been especially valuable for those Soldiers who haven't yet deployed to a joint service environment.
"The cross-training gives the younger enlisted a chance at working with other services. It's a good opportunity to see how other services work," said Smith.
Smith added, "We have one of the Navy guys in our group. We've been able to help him get some miles with one of our certified drivers and get stick time in so we can get him certified."
Scantlen gave some of the Soldiers training on their heavy equipment also. Indicating a large yellow bulldozer he said, "We trained that Soldier on a dozer and teamed her with our guys clearing out this firebreak." Watching as the bulldozers knocked down trees and pushed them to the edge of the woods Scantlen commented, "Once she got the dozer broken in she caught on real well. They're making good time too."
Down a dirt road, Scantlen pointed out a large, recently-mowed field, peppered with black walnut and persimmon trees, planted as part of MCAAP's carefully-managed wildlife program. "Sgt. Cortez helped clear this food plot so the deer can use it as a feeding ground," Scantlen said. "I think he liked driving the skid mower," he added referring to a large mower capable of ripping through dense underbrush.
The 189th Soldiers say they are enjoying their new mission.
"This is my first annual training doing Golden Cargo. It's been a lot of fun learning new equipment," said Sgt. Stephanie L. McClaine, 189th Unit Administrator.
For his part, Cortez, who is a mailman in Bellview, said it doesn't matter what he drives--as long as he's driving.
Using hand motions he guided a dump truck to its off-loading point and said, "I'm a driver. As long as I am on the move I feel like I'm accomplishing something."