FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- Army leaders say that both civilians and Soldiers need training to keep the Army strong and ready. That is why the U.S. Army Sustainment Command sent civilian interns to learn about logistics on the ground.

Twelve new hires at ASC headquarters in Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, visited key operations of the 406th Army Field Support Brigade during a training mission across North Carolina and South Carolina, April 3-8.

The training opportunity was offered as a part of ASC's new Intern Boot Camp program, which organizers said is designed to give civilian personnel a better understanding of how Army material and logistics operations work.

"This is a way the interns can think about their roles at the headquarters and try and see how they fit into the bigger picture," said T.J. Ukleja, training specialist, G-3/5/7 (Operations), ASC. Ukleja accompanied the interns on the trip.

In his 2016 report to the U.S. Congress, Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, said the Army's top priority is readiness, which involves four components: Manning, training, equipping, and leader development.

ASC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which is responsible for providing supply, maintenance, vehicle and basic sustainment services for Soldiers worldwide.

In 2015, Gen. Dennis Via, commanding general, AMC, announced his "AMC 1,000" interns initiative, which he said is a push to hire 1,000 interns throughout AMC every year for the next five years. The program is designed to help fill labor needs, as more of AMC's professional employees become eligible for retirement. The 12 interns on the trip were hired as part of ASC headquarters' first steps towards fulfilling Via's goal.

"The effort AMC put into emphasizing this intern program is important because we need these employees to be around for a long time," said Ukleja. "Civilian employees are the continuity of the Army, and with a large portion of employees being retirement-eligible, we need good, smart, hard workers here for the future."

The interns previously spent six weeks learning about ASC's missions and functions in a classroom. Each of ASC's major staff sections taught parts of the class.

"To culminate what they learned in class, we took them on this trip to the 406th," said Ukleja. "When we're sitting in office buildings, it's nice to know what we are doing, and how it's supporting the warfighter in the field."

The group visited three locations in the 406th AFSB's area of responsibility.

DAY ONE:

On the first day, the interns visited Army Strategic Logistics Activity-Charleston at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. ASLAC maintains and operates ASC's Army Preposition Stock-3.

Unlike ASC's other six land-based APS missions, APS-3 is a massive mobile warehouse of equipment and supplies set on ships that can respond quickly to military needs around the world.

One of the ships used for APS-3 has 393,000 square feet of cargo space, can unload cargo at a foreign port or onto barges at sea, and is equipped with temperature and humidity controls to prevent equipment corrosion.

Robert T. O'Brien Jr., ASLAC general manager, led the educational briefing. He said the most important part of APS-3 is the maintenance, care and modernization of the equipment on the ships.

O'Brien said he thought the visit was beneficial for his operations and for the interns.

"If they get exposed to all the different kinds of things ASC does -- including prepositioning -- that helps us get our word out on what we do, and the support that we need," he said. "It also makes them smarter in their jobs, and lets them know that we are a possible solution to issues they might have in the future."

While at ASLAC, the interns toured APS staging areas and maintenance operations.

DAY TWO:

On the second day, the interns traveled three and a half hours north to Military Ocean Terminal-Sunny Point, North Carolina, where they learned about ammunition supply logistics.

MOTSU is the key ammunition shipping port for the Department of Defense on the East Coast. The ammunition supply mission of APS-3 is run out of MOTSU.

Col. Chris Hart, commander, 596th Transportation Brigade, Military Surface Development and Distribution Command, met with the interns to discuss his terminal's mission and capabilities, as well as the history of ammunition transportation.

Hart emphasized the importance of safety, and he reviewed the many regulations that govern ammunition storage and transportation.

Hart discussed the Port Chicago disaster, which he said was a major motivator for the eventual establishment of MOTSU, a port located far from civilian housing.

In 1944, a massive munitions explosion occurred in Port Chicago, California, killing over 700 Navy personnel and civilians and leveling the local town. The explosion occurred while personnel were loading munitions onto ships. Most of those killed in the disaster were African- American, and Hart said the following protests likely went a long way towards sparking the Civil Rights movement.

Hart said MOTSU is much safer than the Port Chicago terminal was.

"As far as moving ammunition is concerned, we are set up perfectly," he said.

Richard Harris, APS-3 project manager, ASLAC, said he was glad the interns were exposed to the ammunition side of APS.

"I think it is important for them to be aware that ammunition is a big piece in the overall APS supply arena," he said.

The interns also toured MOTSU, where they saw how different types of ammunition are stored, how supplies are loaded onto Army railheads, and how large cargo ships are loaded and downloaded.

The interns also saw the staging area of Operation Patriot Bandoleer, which was set to take place the following week. OPB involves the transportation of APS-3 equipment and munitions cargo downloaded from a ship. It is a partnership and a training operation where various National Guard units transport the ammunition to Joint Munitions Command installations across the country.

Harris said he thinks it is important that the interns gain an on-the-ground understanding of ASC's missions.

"The only way we are going to pass on the institutional understanding of what's out there is to go out there -- it's hard to just explain to somebody what it's like," he said. "Being there and seeing it in person really changes your perspective of what it means to the people who are doing the job, and the people they are serving."

Tim Fore, APS director, ASC, also accompanied the interns for the first few days of the trip. He answered questions and provided insight into the APS mission throughout the visits to APS sites.

"Getting ASC's newest employees out to the field early in their careers sets the stage for what their purpose is in executing their responsibilities at ASC headquarters," he said. "It shows them how their work behind the desk here in Rock Island impacts the ASC mission worldwide. It's just an awesome opportunity that employees don't normally have until further in their careers."

DAY THREE:

On the third day, the interns traveled two hours north to visit the 406th AFSB at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Chris Chrishon, S-3 (Operations) 406th AFSB, gave the interns a bus tour of Fort Bragg, which is one of the Army's largest installations at 251 square miles. The interns also visited the 82nd Airborne Museum while on post.

"I think coming to Fort Bragg will open their eyes to the greater Army," said Chrishon.

Following the tour, the interns attended the 406th AFSB weekly status update, which was led by Col. Richard Menhart, commander of the brigade.

Chrishon said he thought the interns' visit would help maintain a good relationship between the 406th AFSB and ASC headquarters.

"Each one of these interns… (has) an important part in sustaining the Army," he said. "Hopefully they'll understand that I have challenges too, and hopefully they'll understand that they can help me with my challenges."

DAY FOUR:

On the fourth day, the interns visited the Logistics Readiness Center at Fort Bragg. Formerly known as Directorates of Logistics, the LRCs came under ASC's control in 2012. ASC operates more than 70 LRCs worldwide, and 26 LRCs are in the 406th AFSB's area of responsibility.

LRCs provide direct logistics and supply support to commands stationed in their areas of operation.

Steve Wykel, operations planner, LRC-Bragg, provided an overview of the LRC's missions and capabilities. He talked about the LRC's four major divisions: Plans and operations (budgeting, contract management, property accountability); maintenance (vehicle repair, small arms repair); supply and services (central issue facility, ammunition supply point); and transportation (motor pool, personal property transportation, railhead operations).

Wykel said he thinks it is good that the interns were exposed to operations that directly deal with ASC's customers.

"We're all here to support the customer," he said. "The LRCs are some of the 'face to the customer' organizations… and I think this program is perfect (in) the way they are bringing (interns) down to see how Soldiers actually use our services."

One of the interns, Kpakpo Hounzouke-Akue, internal review specialist, ASC, said he particularly liked the trip to LRC-Bragg.

"It gave me a better understanding of our customers," he said. "It gave me a different perspective of ASC that I did not have at headquarters."

Following the briefing, the interns were led on a tour of the LRC's facilities, including the food storage warehouse, the central issue facility, and the vehicle maintenance bays. They also had the opportunity to eat lunch at one of the dining facilities supported by the LRC.

The interns also visited the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to learn more about the Army's history.

DAY FIVE:

The final day of the trip was dedicated to traveling back to the Quad-Cities area. The interns also met for a brief after-action review, where they discussed what they liked and what they learned.

The interns came from a wide-range of backgrounds. Some had limited experience with the federal government, but half had prior military experience. They all said the trip was valuable.

Tim Gray, procurement analyst, Small Business Office, who was an enlisted combat engineer who served from 2002 to 2011, said the experience gave him new insight into the Army that he did not have as a Soldier.

"I never knew the full picture and footprint of what happens behind the front lines," he said. "The trip opened my eyes to the dedication, appreciation and hard work that goes into supporting our nation's military and counterparts."

Wes Coverdill, another intern who is working in ASC's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, also served in the Army for four years as a mechanic.

"I didn't realize the food and storage systems were so extensive," he said. "It's just unbelievable the infrastructure that ASC and AMC have -- that I had no clue of until I started here."

Kristi Francis, procurement analyst, Small Business Office, said the trip helped her realize the importance of ASC's mission.

"The detailed explanations provided during the tours -- and the hands-on learning we had at each of the sites -- allowed me to better understand the complexity of making sure Soldiers have everything they need to accomplish their missions as safely as possible," she said.

Kim Valvo, human resources specialist, G-1 (Human Resources), said she believed one of the best aspects of the trip was the opportunity to network with her fellow interns and colleagues.

"We are such a diverse group, with different levels of experience and backgrounds, and as a whole, we've all gotten along so well and have built solid relationships with one another," she said. "I think we have learned so much from each other, and we will utilize this networking opportunity, now and in the future."

Others agreed with Valvo.

"I really enjoyed networking with other interns like me," said Lauren Aggen, equal employment specialist, ASC. "It's a trip we'll never forget."