Thirteen U.S. Army Reserve teams conducted qualification for sections of convoy protection platforms, also known as Gate III, at Fort Knox throughout the last half of March.

Before their trip to Fort Knox, the Soldiers had completed mounted qualification as part of Cold Steel at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, then participated in Combat Support Training Exercise 78-18-03. After extensive battle drills and situational training lanes, they remained at Fort Knox to transition back to Cold Steel for section live-fire qualifications.

The Soldiers who had qualified in teams of three at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, built on their section teamwork at CSTX to help prepare them for work as a convoy team.

"They had to finish [at Fort McCoy] as a team, so when they come here, that's something they can apply," said Maj. Frederick Meeks, exercise plans officer, Bridge Combat Support Training Exercise 78-18-03. "When I was doing the [reception, staging, onward movement and integration] briefs, that's something I was preaching to the individuals who were coming into CSTX. I said, 'Listen, going through lethal warrior training is going to have to be as a unit; you have to be together as a unit.' For them going through Gate IV at McCoy, they had to go through as a unit. I think that's where they benefit -- uniformity."

While CSTX proved beneficial to solidify the entire escort section, the three-person crews had already built their teamwork while performing mounted gunnery at Fort McCoy.

"That's the building block for gunnery," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Terstegen, master gunner, First Army.

"[They] learn as a crew, that's kind of their crawl phase. They get in there; it's three individuals inside of a crew. They understand crew commands, crew duties, they put it all together, they shoot from the defense, they shoot from the offense, they shoot at stationary targets, they shoot at moving targets and so that sets them up," he continued. "When they come here, now they're shooting as an element, a minimum of two vehicles up to five vehicles in a section that is constantly moving, engaging targets. It's that stepping stone to get to where they're at."

To become familiar with convoy escorts, the sections begin their training on Day 1 by receiving an operations order, then spend their time planning and rehearsing for their "mission."

The following day they begin training with two simulators: Virtual Battlespace 3 -- a laptop-based system -- and the LaserShot Warrior Skills Trainer, a mounted-immersed trainer.

"They're actually going through the functions of manipulating weapon systems, turning turrets, being in the actual shell of a Humvee, driving, everyone in their respective positions. They have 360-degree screens around them so they can visually see targets and they're learning weapon orientation and crew duties there as a section," said Terstegen. "Before, you had your crew duties and you were always looking forward as an individual crew, now as a section, you've got to be cognizant of the vehicle in front of you so you're adjusting off them."

The next three days, the section drives the lane. The first day, with no ammunition; the second, with blank ammunition that simulates the sound of shooting without using rounds; the third, that's when they put it all together for qualification, complete with ammunition.

"So you're trying to actually knock the targets down," said Terstegen. "You've been engaging them, but you don't really know where you're hitting so now you're engaging them, watching where your rounds are impacting so as a vehicle commander, you're adjusting fires."

The goal of the training, according to leaders, is to eliminate the need for a separate element to protect a logistics convoy.

"This training is helping sustainers defend themselves," said Sgt. 1st Class Larry McCracken, a vehicle crew evaluator and fire commands master gunner at 3-340th Brigade Engineer Battalion.

Terstegen said changing missions requirements necessitate changing tactics.

"The sustainment units are now not going to have an escort," he said. "They're going to have to defend themselves and they understand that."