FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 8, 2019) -- A partnership between Fort Sill and the Great Plains Technology Center (GPTC) provides forklift training to advanced individual training students in 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery.

The training is invaluable because the new Patriot launcher Soldiers will arrive at their first duty station with this skill, plus the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certified training is marketable in the civilian sector.

Jennifer Smith, Air Defense Artillery School Commandant's Office leader development and education analyst, said the training is part of a great relationship the Army has with GPTC.

"They rent the forklift for us, bring it on Fridays, train on Saturdays, and come back on Mondays to pick it up," she said. "They are so accommodating. We couldn't do it without our local education partners."

Shawn Johnson, GPTC safety coordinator, and Cherri Lambert, GPTC safety instructor, taught the Powered Industrial Truck Safety for General Industry course Aug. 3, at McClymont Hall. Fifteen students in the Patriot Launching Station Enhanced Operator/ Maintainer Class No. 32-19 took the four-hour course. The Soldiers trained on Class 7 forklifts, which can lift up to 8,000 pounds, Johnson said.

Lambert said GPTC uses the term powered industrial truck, not forklift, because that is what OSHA uses on its certifications.

About the first 90 minutes was classroom covering forklift safety, capabilities, and load charts. At the end of the classwork, Soldiers had to pass a 20-question written test with at least 80 percent.

"The classroom instruction was very well taught," said student Pvt. Matthew Blanton, 21, from Valdosta, Ga. "They covered a lot of topics, and summarized them so we could better understand them."

Then it was on to driving, and lifting and moving empty individual Patriot missile pods.

The Class 7 forklift can be steered three ways: front wheels only, front and rear wheels independently, and obliquely, Lambert said. "For the oblique, you can move the truck to the left or right while it is facing forward kind of like a crabwalk."

The forklift can have up to three joysticks to operate the hydraulic lift, Lambert said.

"One of them will raise and lower the boom, one of them will extend and retract the boom, and the other will change the tilt to the left or to the right," she said. Pictograms accompany each joy stick to give the operator a clear picture of what the control does.

Blanton said at first he was nervous driving the forklift, but the instructors provided direct supervision so that made it easier. As far as the lift, "it didn't take no time at all, much shorter than what I imagined. I feel very confident."

Upon successful completion of the course, the Soldiers were provided OSHA certification on the Class 7 forklift. The certification is good for three years, Johnson said.

Staff Sgt. David Martin, military occupational specialty 14T AIT instructor, said the forklift training is relevant to the Soldiers' jobs because they load Patriot missiles onto launchers using forklifts and cranes.

"The forklifts they're training on here are the same type at the line units, so the training is very applicable," Martin said.

The training is free for Soldiers, Smith said. The Training and Doctrine Command and Army University provide funds for national certifications, licensing, and credentialing for Soldiers.

GPTC offers a similar forklift operator course for civilians for $49, Johnson said.

The forklift training is a good additional skill to have, Johnson said. He noted it could potentially increase one's civilian wages.

Smith said she's heard of Soldiers who go to work for Home Depot driving forklifts during their holiday break, and earn $22 per hour.

Smith said if the 14T students did not learn to drive the forklift during AIT, they would have to learn it when they got to their unit.

"We're trying to give them a leg up, and to further and improve their education while they are here."

The forklift training is provided every Saturday except holiday weekends, Smith said. Up to 20 students attend the morning training, and another 20 in the afternoon class.

The partnership has been going on for a couple years, Johnson said. About 1,500 Soldiers have received forklift certification, Smith said.

"We have enjoyed the partnership with Great Plains, we are very confident in the training that the Soldiers are getting, and we are also very proud that we get to support the operational force through this training," Smith said.