Soldiers with the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team conducted rail loading operations at the Rail Marshalling Area, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Dec. 13-17, in preparation for their upcoming rotation to the National Training Center, at Fort Irwin, California.More than 1,000 pieces of equipment, to include M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, M109 Paladin Howitzers, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, HMMWVs, along with other tactical vehicles, will be transported westward to the southern California desert.The 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment was tasked with being the command and control node for 1ABCT to manage the staging and load-out of the brigade's equipment. The 1-64th was responsible for ensuring that thousands of vehicles at the RMA were ready to be sent to NTC."We are managing and ensuring that this is a deliberate and an efficient operation," said Capt. Douglas Sparrow, the lead planner for 1-64th Armor Bn. "It is of the utmost importance that we ensure the safety of our Soldiers and the safety of our equipment."Safety was paramount throughout each stage of the operation. First Lieutenant Matthew Malcuit, an infantry officer and platoon leader, played a key role in managing and mitigating risks at the individual Soldier level which included ensuring that vehicles were loaded properly and paperwork filled out accurately."One challenge that we face at the RMA is paying attention to detail," Malcuit said. "It's making sure there is nothing loose on the vehicles that could fall out en route; it's making sure our shipping labels are right, so everything we're shipping ends up in the right spot. The M1 Abrams is actually wider than the train car, so it's especially important that they are properly loaded and secured."The load-out process began long before vehicles arrived at the RMA, as Soldiers conducted preventive maintenance checks and services on their vehicles at their unit motor pools. Shipping labels were printed, loose equipment secured, and windows taped and covered to prevent damage. Vehicles went through an initial inspection before leaving the motor pool and were given a final clearance inspection at the RMA by certified technicians.The National Training Center, with more than a thousand square miles of desert terrain and a regimental-sized opposing force, provides realistic and challenging training to prepare brigade combat teams and other units for combat. Even though the training has not yet begun, the rail loading operations have provided unique learning opportunities for junior leaders."This operation has broadened my knowledge in that I'm getting to see the logistics behind how we ship equipment - how we, as an Army, get ready to deploy - and the process for us to actually move rather than just drive to where we're going," Malcuit said. "I'm really looking forward to taking my platoon into 'the box'. We're going to get to do some good training that will test us on what we've learned so far. We've had a good train-up coming through the fall and we're definitely ready for this."