By Terrance BellJanuary 10, 2020
FORT LEE, Va. -- The Quartermaster Field Training Exercise here is a capstone event in which thousands of advanced individual training Soldiers annually rehearse the technical and tactical tasks required to be operationally ready when they arrive at their first duty stations.
Like every other military operation, it does not run itself. That is the job of mostly midgrade noncoms and fewer than a dozen junior-enlisted Soldiers who serve as evaluators and general support personnel. The team sees it as a golden opportunity to make an imprint on the next generation of logisticians.
Among them is Sgt. Cody Jewett, a 92W water treatment specialist with nearly five years of military service. The 30-year-old said he had duties elsewhere four months ago, but his former workplace experiences are greatly overshadowed by his role as an evaluator.
"I love being out here helping these Soldiers," said Jewett, who's assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 23rd QM Brigade. His response was interjected between hand signals and vocal commands as he guided students through exercise lanes at Training Area 33. "What you see here is a high level of engagement; they are excited and motivated to do this. At the end of the day, they've accumulated a wealth of knowledge. They'll take something with them to carry on."
Each QMFTX - staged weekly among several training areas leading northward from A Avenue and 38th Street - is a three-night, four-day affair. It provides students with opportunities to demonstrate skills in warrior tasks and battle drills, scenario-based training and occupational specialties. Roughly 2,100 Soldiers participate in the QM School event on a monthly basis.
If not for their roles in the exercise, Jewett and his 20-or-so fellow HHC unit members would be fulfilling MOS-specific jobs throughout the brigade. Their QMFTX responsibilities under the Direct Support to the Training Exercise element include managing the brigade support areas as well as fulfilling roles as facilitators and graders, he said.
"We brief students on what we expect on the lanes," Jewett said of the latter, "and we evaluate the Soldiers (using grading sheets) as they are going through the lanes."
The mission of training support keeps the DSTE Soldiers working 8-hour-plus days for most of the month. A week's break is provided for the Soldiers to regroup and prepare for the next iterations.
Spc. Michael Bailey, a 92F petroleum supply specialist with four years of service under his belt, has been working as a training evaluator since he arrived here a few months ago. He said engaging with future warriors has provided him a great sense of empowerment.
"It makes me feel like a real steward in the Army," he said. "It also gives me a sense of responsibility, even though it is outside of my MOS. These young Soldiers are going to be our brothers and sisters who will eventually serve with us. Whether it's active duty, National Guard or Reserve, we're going to rub shoulders. It's an honor to do it. Everyone doesn't get the opportunity to do it. I get to put my touch on things, tell them what I know and share with them my experiences."
Bailey, who normally works on the grenade lanes, said he and others help prepare Soldiers for the graded events during round-robin training that includes tasks such as medical evacuation. Guiding students through the training and evaluating their performances has a cumulative effect on Bailey and his fellow evaluators: they learn just as much as those they are helping to train.
"I know it sounds cliché and corny, but for someone like me - a specialist who is promotable and ready to become a sergeant - the training is helping out," he said, noting his last job at Fort Carson, Colo., did not present such an opportunity. "The job is preparing me to train and communicate with my future subordinates."
Spc. Christopher Dennis, also a 92F, was in agreement, saying the countless interactions with students are immeasurable in helping to improve his troop leading skills. He also said the constant training pace acts as a refresher, helping to cement his ability to perform critical Soldier tasks.
"There are things out here we don't do every day in the Army," he said of the lane training. "It allows me the opportunity to brush up on things I learned in basic (combat training) and AIT."
The evaluators admitted there are many difficult aspects of the job. Several of them agreed motivating the Soldiers to consistently put forth their best efforts - especially in bad weather - is an ongoing challenge.
"The most difficult part is trying to keep them focused," said DSTE's Sgt. Marquis Turner, noting he sometimes has to resort to the unconventional.
"I use techniques that make them aware and keeps them upbeat and engaged on a professional level. If I show a positive attitude, that's what will be reflected back at us."
Sgt. Kehinde Afolabi, Turner's fellow evaluator, said the work can get arduous due to the sheer amounts of Soldiers undergoing instruction. He said the workload, however, is countered by the potential rewards he and his fellow evaluators will likely reap when they are assigned to operational units.
"I love teaching," he said, "and teaching all these Soldiers - imparting my knowledge - it makes me feel like I'm doing something good for the Army."
More than 20,000 Soldiers this year will undergo training during the QMFTX. Many thousands more across the Sustainment Center of Excellence footprint will complete field evaluations conducted by the Ordnance School, the Army Logistics University and others.