FORT POLK, La. -- An historic event changed the face of Fort Polk March 12, 1993 --the post became the new home of the Joint Readiness Training Center, a movethat resulted from the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Act of1991.
The date marks the official beginning of duties for the JRTC headquarters at Fort Polk after moving from Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. The JRTC command sergeant major at the time, Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Hardwick, had an enormous responsibility in ensuring all the pieces of the command made it to Fort Polk -- a daunting yet successful mission.
"We made it with no accidents and no equipment lost," Hardwick said.
Hardwick was the guest speaker at the 25-year JRTC and Operations Group anniversary event held at North Forth March 12. He and four others who played key roles in bringing the JRTC to Fort Polk served as honored guests for the event.
Hardwick recapped his recollection of events as they occurred 25 years ago.
"The unit made a successful move, and I say successful because of our accountability for things at Little Rock Air Force Base (where many of the Families were living at the time) as well as Fort Chaffee," he said. "Our first official rotation was in September (1993) with 82nd (Airborne Division). If you look atthe Warrior Wall (a monument that stands in the training area), it (the 82nd logo) is still painted there. It was the very first one. We came up with that (wall) idea, which is similar to what the (National Training Center in California) does, and the (structure) was used during basic training and(advanced individual training) as a bunker from which they adjusted artillery fire. We sanded it down and let (rotational units) paint on it."
Hardwick said live fires were not conducted at Peason Ridge at that time but rather in the North Fort training area. That required a greater involvement of observer/coaches.
"At that time, you had squad O/Cs. That means they walked with each squad -- there was no riding around in anything. If a squad went out on an ambush at 0-dark thirty, the O/C went with them," he said. "Everywhere a Blue Force went, an O/C went right along with them."
Today's training may involve more technology and certainly more Soldiers, said Hardwick, going from a few hundred to thousands of players on the field. But the quality of training remains high, he said. Hardwick still works for the JRTC, getting the personnel and equipment that have been deemed "injured, killed or out of commission" during a rotation back into the training scenario.
Other special guests for the 25th anniversary were Joe Saverino, Mark Gallashaw, Lee Littleton and Randi Kaul. Saverino was a platoon sergeant in Bravo Company, 509th Infantry Regiment, which played the role of the opposing force as they still do.
"It took a little while before we could do the rotations because there were a lot of moving pieces that had to be put in place," he said. "Once we were stood up, we had to start getting everything prepared to actually execute the rotations. "
The move to Fort Polk saved the unit a lot of travel time, according to Saverino, because when they were in Arkansas, the 509th was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base and had to travel roughly 160 miles to reach Fort Chaffee for the rotations. At Fort Polk, the training area, family housing and the unit base of operations are in one location. "It was a lot easier to do rotations down here," he said.
The biggest difference in the rotations of 25 years ago compared to today is thenumber of personnel, said Saverino.
"It was much smaller back then, roughly a battalion-size element (300-1,000 Soldiers) going through the rotations and now it's a brigade-plus (up to 5,000 Soldiers) going through, not to mention the 509th has also grown since moving down here. Everything has grown bigger and more complex."
Saverino currently works for the contractor Cubic as a safety specialist.
Gallashaw served as the nuclear, biological and chemical officer for the 509th in 1993. His job was to replicate chemical attacks and weapons caches for rotational units to find and destroy. He also flew over the units to replicate chemical attacks from helicopters.
"Once I moved to Fort Polk, I switched from the 509th to Operations Groups and became the chemical O/C, then I went into the Joint Operations Center to work as the chemical officer at division level," said Gallashaw. "What we did (for the rotation units) was generate hazard messages, communicate wind speeds and directions, and use intelligence to predict chemical attacks. The (Soldiers) would then have to put on their full protection gear (if that threat was presented)."
The biggest difference he's seen in the field over 25 years is the advancement of technology, he said.
"We went from grease and alcohol pens on plastic overlays and manually drawing on maps to everything being computer-generated now. To me, technology is one of the biggest things JRTC brings to the playing field for our Soldiers," said Gallashaw. "Depending on the scenario, JRTC can retool to match the conditions our Soldiers will face when they deploy. That has saved lives, especially in places like Afghanistan and Iraq."
Kaul's role moving JRTC to Fort Polk involved "instrumentation" -- that means electronically tracking every Soldier and piece of equipment in the battlespace (through MILES gear) and installing video and recording systems in the training area. It also means offering those assets in after action review products, giving the rotational unit a play-by-play record of what Soldiers did, and when, during each exercise.
"I was an assistant project director (in Arkansas) and when (the command) talked about moving JRTC to Fort Polk, they were talking about a new program called 'Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT).' They asked me to lead that project at Fort Polk. This was a largely unknown (concept) until we went into Somalia and Mogadishu. That changed the game," said Kaul.
She said there was little to no training available to prepare units going into those kinds of environments, so she put in the instrumentation at Shugart-Gordon, JRTC's MOUT training site, as well as Word Compound and Self Airfield.
"Cameras, microphones, speakers, battlefield effects, the command and control station at the (after action review) theater -- we emplaced this instrumentation system for all that, and it became the Army's premier MOUT site," she said. Kaul said she spent about four months at JRTC learning all she could about what the rotating units needed so she could put together a tailored instrumentation package for the JRTC. She still takes care of the instrumentation systems at Fort Polk, and provides upgrades as needed.
Littleton was assigned to the Fire Support cell back in 1993.
"We were in charge of replicating radar dispatching the firemarkers (pyrotechnic effects, generally moving around on four-wheelers), replicating the right number of rounds as was called into us," said Littleton. "The big change I've seen is in the technology. Back then, we didn't have a good way to replicate the radar piece, because if there is nothing flying through the air, there is nothing for the radar to catch, so we had to replicate that."
A computer program was developed, said Littleton, and now it's all done digitally and "it's a lot better!" Littleton still works with Ops Group, under the Raytheon contractor. He said he was honored to be part of the day's festivities.
"It's nice to have been a part of this (organization) for so long. I was a green-suiter back then, and then I retired and stayed here. I've always liked being around Soldiers and troops -- it's just come naturally to me."
Col. David S. Doyle, current commander of Operation Groups, said the JRTC and Operations Group has a rich shared heritage, and it was important to acknowledge the beginning of that service on the actual date, March 12.
"We pulled everyone together today to remind them of why we do what we do and why we're here," said Doyle. "Fort Polk is a great home for the Operations Group and JRTC. The community takes great care of us, the swamps and forests of the training area are absolutely perfect for what we are trying to do, and we are very fortunate to be here."
Brig. Gen. Patrick Frank, commanding general, JRTC and Fort Polk, also attended the event. He said it was important for him to talk to the first command sergeant major of Operations Group (Hardwick) and to see the then-Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Gordon P. Sullivan, (through a video shown at the event's start) talk about the impact he felt JRTC would make on the Army 25 years ago.
"We continue to see that today," said Frank. "Our O/Cs assist (rotational unit) leadership in preparing to send those units into combat or into theater, and ensure they are ready. We have that same mission today, a critical mission for the Army and for the nation."