By Capt. Thomas PiernickyMarch 23, 2018
FORT STORY, Va. -- "Soldiers come out here and want to be tested," said the 348th Transportation Battalion intelligence officer, 1st Lt. Christopher Zavesky.
Zavesky wasn't speaking in hypotheticals. His unit had just experienced a difficult night, when high winds and cold rain had blown over multiple tents in which exhausted Soldiers had been trying to get some sleep.
Despite the weather, the Soldiers maintained high spirits. The Soldiers set to work immediately to fix the tents. "Morale was high to continue the mission," said Capt. Ayana Kendal, commander of the 384th Movement Control Team. "The Soldiers were laughing and singing while getting soaked in the rain and snow. It didn't faze them."
The trying night was just one part of the ongoing Combat Support Training Exercise 78-18-03 here, March 1 - 29.
CSTX 78-18-03 is a Combat Support Training Exercise with 11,000 participating service members that ensures America's Army Reserve units and Soldiers are trained and ready to deploy on short-notice. The exercise is taking place across the Army Reserve at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Joint Base Langley-Eustis and Fort Story, Virgina.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. David Nowicki, commander of the 348th Transportation Battalion (Terminal), based in Houston, Texas, has 300 Soldiers comprised of five Reserve units and four attached Active Duty units participating in this exercise running port and beach operations.
Nowicki said that the training was good for his Soldiers to practice their lethal warrior tasks while working with active duty units, which was an extra challenge as the units were spread out over long distance.
"We are executing mission command where we have to empower our subordinate commanders and formations to follow commander's intent and end state, but make the decisions to adjust as necessary to accomplish the mission," said Nowicki.
Running ports and opening beaches for amphibious landing craft is something that few Army units can do. To do this, members of the 331st Causeway Company spent nine hours during training building a causeway just off the beach on Fort Story, Virginia. It is the only unit in the Army that can accomplish this task.
"This gives the Army an asset most people don't know we have," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kurt Hollier, of the 348th Transportation Battalion. "It means we don't have to rely on the Navy."
The initial days of training were highly successful as the Soldiers practiced small unit tactics. Even many of the experienced Soldiers had not practiced these skills in many years.
The Soldiers enjoyed challenges that enhanced the training value of the exercise, but by Monday evening the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Soldiers had prepared for cold weather with temperatures dropping to below freezing, but the strong winds caught many off guard. Freezing temperatures, driving rain and wind gusts over 30 mph tore down tents the Soldiers were sleeping in.
"By and large, the weather was the largest challenge we had," said Nowicki.
The harsh weather conditions challenged Nowicki's Soldiers and created unexpected complications during the training. Extreme wind gusts tore a tent free and blew it into a tree top several yards away.
"Even though we had the tents staked down and sandbags on there, the wind was big enough it just blew up," said Ayana Kendal. "We had Soldiers sleeping in tents and they got wet. With the wind they got really cold. We did have one Soldier that experienced mild hypothermia."
Leaders in the unit offered the soaked Soldiers a chance to go to a near-by building and change into dry clothes and sleep there for there night, but they refused. Zaleski said the Reserve Soldiers enjoyed the challenges of the training despite the hardships.
Training exercises like CSTX 78-18-03 are developed to improve each units' training readiness and to assess how they perform in a dynamic operational environment.
"I have seen the growth of Soldier skills and confidence over just a few days," said Nowicki. "It has given me crystal clear vision of what our current capabilities are if we are called to perform our overseas mission in the next few days."
The 348th Transportation Battalion is a part of the 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). The command has units throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. As part of America's Army Reserve, the units are capable, combat-ready, lethal and equipped to provide military and logistical support in any corner of the globe.