FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 31, 2016) -- Soldiers from the 511th Military Police Company, 91st MP Battalion, recently began a 300-mile trek from Fort Drum to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., for a two-week training exercise.
Capt. Malcolm Adler, 511th MP Company commander, said a long-distance trek was the best way to assess their readiness to deploy rapidly.
"Our battalion commander's training guidance was to test our expeditionary capabilities, and one of the reasons why we chose Fort Indiantown Gap was to assess our ability to deploy -- our ability to pick up our operations center, track our whole movement down, just like we would do in Afghanistan or Iraq."
The 91st MP Battalion falls under the 16th MP Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Adler described it as one of the more urbanized military police battalions in the brigade, capable of mobilizing stateside or overseas when called upon.
"The reason we test and validate these abilities to deploy and use our organic assets is because we never know when we will be called up … even around the globe, and we might have to rely on our own equipment and programs that we have back here," he said.
En route to their destination, Soldiers in the 20-vehicle tactical convoy encountered their first test when both tires on a generator trailer locked up, and the maintenance section's speedy repair work got them moving again within the hour. About 80 miles away from Fort Indiantown Gap, a blown hub seal on a vehicle caused another delay. Some of the mechanics and maintenance trucks remained behind to service the vehicle while the main body continued on.
"The 45 minutes spent fixing the hub was time well-spent because if our wrecker towed the Humvee in that configuration, it would have taken three times as long," said 1st Sgt. Shaun Craven, 511th MP Company first sergeant.
Lt. Alan Hart, 511th MP Company executive officer, said that the vehicles had not been tested on this long a convoy for some time, and some roadside assistance was to be expected.
"This was our first test as a company deployed organically with both maintenance and subsistence support," he said. "We brought everybody. We had everything we needed to work on any truck on the road or off the road without a bay, and that was the real test. Can we, as a company, take our vehicles to a mission and recover ourselves if we had to? We were able to take care of all our issues with our own equipment."
If there was one lesson learned early on that Hart would instill in every junior leader participating in the exercise, it would be "Value and employ your maintenance section."
"It is the company's job, especially before missions like this, that the maintenance section is employed and stressed so that we know what we need to get us to the destination and to get the mission complete," Hart said. "We would have failed, no doubt, if we hadn't done this."
In addition to testing their sustainment support operations, having to move to a different training environment made for a more realistic deployment simulation.
"We wanted to get that unfamiliar and realistic environment and see how we can operate in it," Adler said.
First Lt. Sarah Allbright, 2nd Platoon leader, said that training at another post gave them an opportunity to test things they might take for granted at Fort Drum.
"Sometimes Soldiers get too comfortable training at home. At Fort Drum, if we're going to train at Range 34, we just go," Allbright said. "Everyone knows how to get there. This was a lot different, and I think that was one of the best parts about the training. We didn't have anything memorized because we had never been to any of these places before."
Soldiers conducted training in operational area security tasks, such as cordon and search scenarios to capture a high-value target, critical site security and quick reaction missions within a realistic and contemporary urban environment. Fort Indiantown Gap's Warrior Training Grounds also provided an improvised explosive device lane for route reconnaissance missions and an urban assault course.
"Each event we did would build on to each other, from squad-level missions and platoon-level missions, and they were really fast-paced," said 1st Lt. Kelsey Herridge, 1st Platoon leader. "There was a lot of stress placed on the platoons during the train-up part, which was something we hadn't really done as much before."
Allbright said her platoon was able to dedicate a lot of time to troop-leading procedures, and rehearsals allowed them to think through scenarios before engaging in a mission in foreign training areas.
"We did squad IED lanes in this huge three-mile course with broken down cars, markets and an overpass," she said. "It was good for the Soldiers to go through that, not knowing what to expect, and the opposition force was there to keep them on their toes."
The company also spent two days training at a state-of-the-art live-fire shoot house on site. It is designed to train on room- and building-clearing techniques in a two-story structure with 10 rooms. Cameras are rigged throughout the facility to replay the training during an after-action review.
"You could see every movement that your troops were making, and it was phenomenal what these Soldiers learned in there," Adler said.
"The technology was amazing in there," Herridge added. "It had these pop-up targets that would actually go down depending on the amount of shots you put into them and where you put them. I thought it set us up really well for the culminating training event."
The last two days were dedicated to the CTE that incorporated platoon missions to conduct critical site security and tested how they performed as a response force. A team of observer / controllers from across the 16th MP Brigade oversaw the exercise and graded the company leaders on how they were able to improve their proficiency. The 91st MP Battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment provided operational support, to include serving as the opposition force and conducting nine-line medevac training with aviation support.
"We were able to practice nine-line procedures and set up a landing zone that they could actually use -- things we would otherwise simulate doing," Adler said. "To actually have a National Guard medevac come down and take that casualty out -- so now you don't have that Soldier in the scenario -- it's hard to replicate that in simulations."
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Reeves, 91st MP Battalion command sergeant major, said military police officers don't deploy the same as infantry units that move as whole battalions, and so that sometimes requires different training scenarios to assess their deployment capabilities at a company level. Specifically, he said it took a lot of planning and decision-making that they would not otherwise have experienced in a training exercise on post, which would have been made at a battalion level.
"When you get that far away, there's a lot of decisions that are made and a lot of Soldiers involved to make it happen," he said. "And then when they get down there, they are setting up their own tactical operations center, they're running mission command at a company level straight to these lieutenants who are operating independently out on these missions. You don't have people telling them what to do or how to do it, so their learning curve was a lot higher on this one than it normally is going to be."
Hart said the company overcame any challenge they faced and returned to Fort Drum feeling accomplished in their training. It's the esprit de corps factor, he said, knowing that their company completed a training exercise that no other company in the battalion has done.
"You could see it on their faces, and I just think everyone is a little more confident now," he said. "When we first started talking about this, people were a bit nervous, wondering if all our vehicles would make it, and we discussed all the planning risks. After we got there, and it all worked out, the feeling was that we could execute that mission anywhere now. If we did 300 miles this time, we could take the same plan and do 600 or 700 miles. We get back and the camaraderie is a just a little bit stronger because of this."