Rumbling engines, boxes of Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) being handed out, and the smell of eggs and diesel fuel in the crisp, Alaskan air is what Soldiers in the U.S. Army woke up to between July 23 and Aug. 3, 2016. During that time, Operation Arctic Anvil, the first U.S. Army Pacific-level training in Alaska, took place.
With about 5,000 Soldiers and support personnel to feed and keep supplied from units including U.S. Army Alaska, Alaska National Guard, Iowa Army National Guard, U.S. Air Force, 196th Infantry Brigade and the Canadian military, the operation required extensive logistics planning to be carried out successfully.
At the heart of the planning is Soldiers who make each day's mission possible for those out in the field.
Capt. Jacob Paulus, commander of Company E, 334th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard, is one of those people. He oversees the logistics operation that helps keep Task Force Ironman Soldiers moving forward.
"My company's mission is to support the task force with commodities," said Paulus. "We supply the fuel, support troop movements, and perform other duties as assigned."
Spc. Brady Peters, a truck driver with Company D, 334th BSB, emphasized how crucial that mission is. He brings out supplies to the troops at remote locations to ensure vital resources are available in the right place, at the right time.
"Our job is important to the overall mission because we bring important supplies at critical points," said Peters. "We also do tactical supply lines, and it's important to be able to bring supplies when needed to troops."
The expansive and rugged Alaska training area added transportation challenges for leaders on the mission. They needed to get troops from one location to another and did not have the vehicles needed to accomplish that mission. This is when Company E came in with troop transporters and fuel tankers.
"Due to the terrain and assets that the line units have, there are two rifle companies that have a total of four trucks for 200 people," said Paulus. "They can't move without us. Alpha Troop and Delta Company are mounted units. They don't have fuelers, so they can't move after they run out of gas without us."
Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Caldwell, a platoon sergeant with B Troop, 113th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard, is a leader who recognizes how important logistics is to the mission.
Speaking of supply, Caldwell said, "For me being a platoon sergeant, it is absolutely paramount. If we don't have water, don't have fuel or don't have food, we can't fight. Running trucks that are at a quarter tank and trying to do operations is not fun. With the supply chains established and set up we're a lot more flexible to do the missions that we want to do."
When you look behind the scenes of the big picture that is logistics, you will always find those Soldiers who keep the wheels of support turning. Throughout the training day, those wheels are often transporting very important cargo: food.
Thanks to Soldiers like Cpl. Stacie Baker, a food service specialist with Company E, 334th BSB, Soldiers in training usually have the option of at least one hot meal a day.
"I figured this was the best way I could help Soldiers be happier and just support them," said Baker. "This is a way I can help them out and make their day brighter if they're soaked and freezing."
Caldwell emphasized just how much difference a hot meal can make.
"Getting the opportunity to break the routine of having MRE's every day and having even that one meal that's hot makes everybody feel better," said Caldwell.
This seemingly small detail can make a big difference when a Soldier is sleeping outside on rainy, cold nights, walking miles each day and often engaging in mock firefights. The food service team adds a little warmth to their day and helps them get back in the fight.
However, feeding such a large amount of troops isn't always a piece of cake. Paulus noted that during the exercise, about 450 meals are taken to about eight different locations each day to Iowa National Guard Soldiers. All of these meals need to be cooked, packaged, loaded and transported via logistics packages (LOGPACs) to the remote sites spanning the Donnelly Training Area.
"The LOGPACs are also a challenge because we're sending out over half of the food that we're cooking for supper to the field," said Baker. "Getting all those organized and out to the right spot at the right time is a bit of a process."
Despite the complexity of the operation, Baker believes getting Soldiers one hot meal a day is always worth the process. In turn, troops in the field appreciate the effort and are grateful for the support they get from the 334th and even have a few fan favorites.
"They definitely like the steak," said Baker. "The chicken cordon bleu is pretty popular too, and they really like the chocolate chip cookies. They travel really well, so everyone always takes a couple."
The importance of staying well-fed and supplied while in the field for several days cannot be understated according to one Soldier in the simulated battlefield.
"I believe it's instrumental to the fight," said Spc. Arturo Perez, an indirect fire infantryman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard. "Without supplies, bullets don't fly. That's always been my main philosophy. So me and the boys here, we try to support supply as much as we can. If we didn't have them out there, there wouldn't really be a battle going on right now."
Throughout history, armies around the world have been dependent on their supply chain. Providing Soldiers with the resources they need to carry on with their mission is vital to the success of everyone in the fight.