ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In the Army Reserve's Active Guard and Reserve program, there are currently only two Soldiers that hold the primary military occupational specialty of 88 Uniform (railway adviser). One of them is Sgt. 1st Class James Jacobs who currently serves as the training noncommissioned officer for the 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command headquarters and headquarters company. The other Soldier is Sgt. 1st Class Becky Cox at the 757th Expeditionary Railway Center, explained Jacobs.
Jacobs comes from a Family lineage with a long tradition of military service.
"My father, both of my grandfathers and two of my uncles were in the military. A couple of (my) great uncles also served in the military," he said.
Jacobs, a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin trained as a then, 54 Bravo (Chemical Operations Specialist) when he first enlisted in the Army Reserve after graduating from high school in 1994.
"I wanted to become a cop. I wanted to go to college and study police science. I joined the Army Reserve for college money," he said. "They didn't have a lot of options available at the time. I met the (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores so I went to training at Fort McClellan, Alabama."
Jacobs found a calling during basic and advanced individual training and decided to serve full-time for the Army Reserve when he returned home.
"I was drilling with the 757th Transportation Battalion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All of a sudden they had an opening for an 88 Uniform, which at the time was a train crew member, as an AGR position. They did a by-name request for me and I went to school at Fort Eustis, Virginia to become a train crew member," he said.
"I went through the train crew member course. There was an additional course to be a certified locomotive engineer and conductor. An additional conversion class merged all three jobs into an advisory role so we can advise on all aspects of rail operations."
According to Jacobs, students learned how to operate the locomotive 'hands on' as well as learn the different jobs on a train crew.
"You learned how to couple and uncouple rail cars and work as a conductor. We also learned how to throw switches to change from one track to another track," he said.
Jacobs continued to build on his railway expertise during his long tenure across the various units assigned to the 757th Transportation Battalion.
"He was like the number two guy at the unit. He went to the locomotive school and he was in the 757th his entire life," explained Sgt. First Class Mary Iskerka, Human Resources Representative, 757th Expeditionary Railway Center, Rail Planning and Advisory Team 2.
"Every three years he would (serve in) a different unit under the 757th ERC. By doing that, he stayed in the rail unit his entire career. He has a lot of the rail knowledge which he passed down to other Soldiers," said Iskerka.
This rail Soldier has used his knowledge of rail operations both as a training instructor and to literally help rewrite the book on Army Rail operations.
"I was heavily involved in the restructuring of Army Rail. I participated in developing the curriculum for the new 88 Uniform class as well as the (Advanced Leader Course) and (Senior Leader Course) curriculum. I was also involved in the development of ATP 4-14 which is the military manual on rail operations and I had input on updating (Army Regulation)-56-3 which is titled Management of Army Rail Equipment," explained Jacobs, who also talked about the importance of safety in railway operations.
"Safety is a huge part of rail operations. It's a very dangerous job when you are working around locomotives and rail cars. A train crew member has to go between the locomotive and rail car to hook up the air brakes and coupling. The likelihood of serious injury or death is very high if something goes wrong," said Jacobs.
Jacobs further shared that weather can also be a problem for rail operations.
"When you have snow and ice it can be very difficult to get traction. A locomotive has metal wheels touching a metal rail. In snow and ice conditions they have a tendency to slip. They have sanders built into the locomotive which throw sand under the wheels to help it gain traction," he said.
With 20 years of service in Army rail operations, Jacobs has seen how the rail operations MOS has changed over time. On September 15, 2015 the Army changed the 88 Uniform MOS to the job description of Railway Adviser.
"Prior to September, 2015, we did a lot more rail movements. We would support rail movements of deploying equipment and supplies as well as Army military exercises," said Jacobs. "After that, we served more in an advisory role under the 757th Expeditionary Railway Center, which is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri."
The 757th ERC, both as a transportation battalion and an expeditionary railway center has participated in rail advisory missions in Bosnia, Iraq, South Korea, Uganda, Germany and Poland.
"They set up five railway planning and advising teams. The primary function of these teams is to advise host nations on how to improve railway infrastructure and provide railway planning capabilities," said Jacobs.
The Army continues to rely on railway operations to help units move equipment and supplies from home station to training bases and then to ports for loading onto ships and delivery to units overseas as well as the theater of operations, Jacobs said.
"Since the Civil War, Army rail has been essential to the transportation of military troops and equipment," said Jacobs. "It will continue to be so in all theater of operations in the future, both in an advisory and operational capacity."