By Staff Sgt. Zachary HoldenOctober 4, 2018
YAKIMA, Wash. - After more than a year of preparation and just barely a week into their annual training (AT) at Yakima Training Center (YTC) in Washington, Oregon Army National Guard Soldiers with 1st Squadron, 82nd Cavalry Regiment, had less than 24 hours to re-plan their entire mission.
"We could see the smoke, it was a pretty good-sized fire, and it was moving pretty fast," said Maj. Christopher Kerr, executive officer for 1-82nd Cavalry Regiment.
Due to a nearby wildfire, constant red flag warnings (issued by the National Weather Service to inform about wildfire conditions) had periodically shut down the training grounds and hindered the squadron's ability to stay on schedule and complete the training requirements they had set out to accomplish.
They received an evacuation notice from YTC range control at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 19.
Nearly 300 troops in the squadron had to pack up three different training sites, almost 90 vehicles, and more than 150,000 rounds of ammunition. With such a large footprint, Capt. Candice Ginestar, Forward Support Company commander, 1-82 Cav., had concerns about being able to get everyone and everything packed up and evacuated quickly and safely.
"Teamwork was the word of the day. You want your people to get out safely first, more than anything else, but you also have the equipment. You need to be able to move quickly, but also make sure you have all your people, all your gear," said Ginestar.
Shortly after the evacuation was complete, and all the personnel and equipment were safe, the planning process for the next step was under way.
"Jumping the squadron is a pretty tough deal, lots of teamwork, lots of communication, but we were able to do it," said Kerr. "The next step was to triage annual training, but at that point we didn't have any courses of action."
Kerr explained that this AT was the first opportunity the squadron has had to qualify on gunnery since fielding the Stryker armored fighting vehicles about two years ago, and at the very least had to meet the commander's intent of qualifying crews on the vehicles.
"When we plan for training in the Guard, we have a very specific allotted time that we can be somewhere," said Ginestar, explaining that National Guard units, unlike active duty components, are not as easily able to reschedule large blocks of training time.
The squadron needed to salvage what they could with the remaining training time they had scheduled. Knowing that YTC would no longer be a viable option to complete annual training, the squadron leadership pulled together resources, made phone calls and tried to develop a plan.
"Everybody was utilizing contacts and networks everywhere," said Ginestar.
Looking at a variety of training sites across three states, Orchard Combat Training Center (OCTC), near Boise, Idaho, quickly emerged as the best option.
By 1:00 p.m. on Friday, July 20, Kerr was on a conference call with more than a dozen officials from OCTC. After confirming that the necessary training space was available, all the questions from both sides were checked off.
"All of a sudden it seemed plausible that this course of action might actually work," said Kerr. "Now, we just have to get there."
There was about a year's worth of planning to accomplish in one day before the squadron could begin the nearly 400-mile convoy to their new training site. Kerr knew that support from above would be extremely limited with most of the Oregon Army National Guard's resources focused on the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team's eXportable Combat Training Capability program at Camp Roberts, in California. However, he believed his unit was suited for the challenge.
"As a cavalry squadron, we have to be able to maneuver quickly and support ourselves," Kerr said.
As plans began developing, several 'roadblocks' were quickly identified. The squadron did not have enough food, fuel, or vehicle recovery support to make the move.
"A lot of our troop commanders and first sergeants had a lot of concerns, and rightfully so," said Kerr.
At the beginning of their AT, the 1-82nd convoyed from their home station near Redmond, Oregon, to YTC. Along the way, the 1-82nd had five Stryker's break down.
"That ratio was concerning, that was only 200 miles, and now we're about to double that distance," said Kerr.
Determined, Kerr spoke with his maintenance officer to develop a course of action using the limited recovery equipment they had available.
"Making sure that we had the appropriate [recovery] assets distributed during a large movement like that was probably the number one concern," stated Ginestar.
After analyzing distance, terrain, and potential support facilities along the way, a plan was developed to split the convoy into multiple convoys and spread it out over three days, while using a "slingshot" approach with the vehicle recovery teams. The recovery team would escort the first convoy down the route to a checkpoint, and then return to the previous point to escort the next team.
"[The plan] worked really well," Kerr said. "Our staff just did a phenomenal job of developing solutions to a problem."
The next step was to find fuel, for the trucks and troops. The squadron had about a day's worth of meals-ready-to-eat (MRE) and three days until the mobile kitchens would be operational in OCTC, and only enough diesel to get them a little more than half way.
LaGrande, Oregon, is roughly halfway between Yakima and Boise, and was the planned overnight location during the convoy. It just so happened that Kerr's first unit when he joined the National Guard as a private was with 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, in LaGrande.
"I called [them] up, and asked for support," said Kerr. "I asked them if they had any fuel on site. Can I use your fuel? Can I use your armory?"
The 3-116th Battalion did have enough fuel on hand and was able to support the 1-82nd Squadron. They even had enough MREs, but the rations were being stored in Baker City, Oregon. With one call to his supply staff, located in Umatilla at the time, Kerr received an instant solution. Umatilla had a stake and platform truck available and on the road almost instantly, driving first to Baker City to pick up the rations, then delivering the load to LaGrande in time for 1-82nd Cavalry's arrival. With the movement plan in place, there was just one thing left to do, get to OCTC.
Kerr began feeling optimistic, "I think we might actually pull this off."
Ginestar said the squadron experienced minimal issues throughout the entire movement, attributing the success to the exceptional planning.
"I can't believe it went so well!" recalled Ginestar. "We had very little margin for error in this entire movement, because of our compressed timeline. It couldn't have gone any better."
Kerr explained that once they arrived at OCTC, there was still plenty of work. They had to draw all the lumber, the targets, the generators, the fuel, and then go downrange and build all the targets, but the training facility provided everything they needed.
"We had a lot of problems to solve once we got [to OCTC]," he said. "The amount of support that we received from Orchard Combat Training Center was unprecedented, they went above and beyond."
After three days, thousands of gallons of fuel and thousands of miles driven by all the elements involved, all of 1-82nd Cavalry Squadron had arrived at OCTC. Training resumed and they were well on their way to completing the goals they had set out to achieve this summer.
"The amount of logistics it took to move us from Oregon to Washington to Idaho, I don't think I've ever seen that go down as smoothly as it did," said Sgt. Cody Callahan, a senior medic with Delta Troop, 1-82nd Cav., contributing the success of the unexpected move to excellent planning. "The way that Orchard Combat Training Center has accepted us and worked with us so fantastically, is just a huge accomplishment."
During the experience, Maj. Ronald Clement, 1-82nd Cav. operations officer, posed the question, "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"
Kerr thought so. With the need of a cavalry squadron to stay flexible, Kerr developed a motto for the whole experience, "Where there's adversity, there's opportunity."