The stars have lined up to make Fort Hunter Liggett an Engineer Center of Excellence. It helps that the 80th Training Command (TASS) and the 102nd Training Division’s commanding generals, as well as the post commander, are all engineer officers. FHL and the U.S. Army Reserve engineer program will make history by hosting several new engineer skills courses to expedite training for Soldiers.
“My vision is to host all the engineer skills training here, and do it with good, modern facilities,” said FHL commander Col. Charles Bell.
“COVID-19 helped cut out some red tape to speed up the process and we’ve pushed ahead pretty far,” said Maj. Joshua McClure, the 1st Brigade (Engineer), 102nd Training Division, Army Reserve engineer career manager. He says an overwhelming percent of the Army’s engineers are in the Reserve, so he and his sister brigades are busy all year round.
Three new vertical engineer military occupational skills (MOS) courses moving to FHL are: 12W Carpentry and Masonry, 12K Plumbers and 12R Electricians, as well as the 12H Senior Leader (SLC) and Advanced Leader (ALC) courses for the 12N Horizontal Construction MOS. The 80th TC TASS Training Center at FHL (TTC FHL) currently hosts 12N reclassification courses. The new 12H and 12N courses are designed as advanced courses for existing engineers.
The 12B Combat Engineer and 12C Bridge Crewmember courses are also coming to FHL but will require more time to prepare. FHL is working with McClure to develop a mine clearing/detection lane which is part of the 12B course, something even Fort Leonard Wood doesn’t have. McClure says there are no 12C training on the West Coast, so the new training course at FHL will be a great bonus for the Army and engineer school.
FHL has been working with the 102nd Training Division and FHL TTC for more than a year to prepare for the 12B and 12C. “What we’re doing is building the platform for the Engineer Center of Excellence concept. For the 12B course, which will start in October, we’re building breaching and obstacles lanes,” said Bell. “For the 12C course, we need to prepare the training sites to allow access to Coleman Reservoir.” This requires FHL to conduct environmental studies, build abutments, grade and improve surface areas, to name a few projects. There might be troop projects where Army engineers’ real-world mission is to support the garrison.
McClure is excited about the training coming to FHL for many reasons. Army Reserve engineer training is currently conducted at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Dix, New Jersey; and FHL.
“COVID-19 added many new restrictions at the other installations, and it’s very difficult to meet the quarantine rules that active-duty military installations have,” said McClure. “FHL is isolated so there’s less [COVID-19] exposure whereas the other installations have thousands of troops coming and going at any given day.”
McClure says Reserve units are always competing for resources at the other installations. At FHL, he is getting the five-star treatment since FHL is an Army Reserve installation. Also, the other installations are not conducive to engineer operations during the wet and winter months, and FHL can support year-round training. The additional courses at FHL will help alleviate the heavy training load at other installations, and provide more opportunities for Soldiers.
The 12W and 12N SLC are four-week long courses and began at FHL in late July, running through August. They operate in the “bubble” training concept to isolate the instructors and students from the rest of the installation.
“I enjoy working with my hands and am enjoying this,” said Spc. Brody Lunsford, who was part of the inaugural 12W course at FHL. “Carpentry is a useful trade that I can use for work and for home projects.” Lunsford is with the 779th Engineer Company, Parkersburg, West Virginia, and has been in the Army Reserve for one year.
Sgt. Zachary Squires with the 486th Engineer Co. based in Monclova, Ohio, attended the inaugural 12R course at FHL and had this to say about his experience, “I’m learning how to do things the right way, instead of in the field at my job so it’s cool.” He is in the heating and cooling business in his civilian career, which often requires skills in electrical wiring.
TTC FHL hosts multiple military occupational skills (MOS) courses for engineers, military police, PSYOP, and transportation. A typical course-load is four courses at any given time, so the additional engineer courses will increase the transient and permanent-party footprint.
“We’ve already seen a 150 percent increase in training compared to this time last year. In July alone, we had 180 Soldiers train at our facilities, which is unheard of,” said Maj. Jose Yrigollen, TTC FHL Officer in Charge. “We have the resources and the right people in place to take on the extra courses.” The TTC has a Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI) team, also known as ‘COVID Cops,’ that ensure safety protocols are in place and adhered to.
Yrigollen says they had a three-prong approach to restart operations with Soldiers coming from across the country to train at FHL with the new COVID considerations: Developing a solid mitigation policy with garrison leadership; screening Soldiers upon arrival at airport, upon arrival on post, and during stay; and providing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for all courses.
“We have the capacity for more training, and favorable climate to host training year-round,” said Bell. “We’re ready to make it happen for the Army Reserve and the U.S. Army Engineer Corps.”