CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. – At a time of high demand for its services, the COVID-19 pandemic created a challenge for the normally smooth operations of the Camp Roberts Ammunition Supply Point (ASP).
The ASP, operated by the United States Property and Fiscal Office (USPFO), provides units with munitions for training and emergency operations. A team of eight personnel staffs the bunkers and buildings on a hill behind a fence where ammunition is stored, inspected, maintained and distributed.
“We’re here to support the units and their military training and any type of emergency response,” said Sgt. 1st Class (CA) Mitzi Risenhoover, ASP supervisor. “We support all of the California National Guard to meet their needs as far as ammo. We make sure that the ammunition is requested correctly, that the documents are appropriate and that the requirements are met by the SOP (standard operating procedures), and we support them to the best that we can because we want to make sure that our customers get what they need.”
In January, a Soldier conducting routine business unknowingly exposed six members of the ASP staff to COVID-19. After the Soldier tested positive, the six people were sent home and placed under quarantine for two weeks, leaving the ASP understaffed. To make matters worse, an important inspector general (IG) inspection loomed and much work needed to be done to prepare. The ASP needed help and it needed it fast.
The challenge was met through a joint effort by the California Army and Air National Guard, ensuring that the ASP had the personnel it needed.
On a Friday night in January, Risenhoover received a call from California’s USPFO Supply and Services Division Chief, Arnold Andersen. Andersen informed her that units had been activated for the 2021 presidential inauguration and needed ammunition for a train-up period and for emergency operations.
Risenhoover called three on her staff, Sgt. Dairith Borquez, Staff Sgt. Alejandro Aldaba and Sgt. Raymond Portillo-Mays, and had them report to the ASP. Over the weekend, the team equipped 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, the 40th Brigade Support Battalion and Special Operations Detachment – North with ammunition for training and with an operational load for the law enforcement support mission.
In the next couple days, six members of the ASP team were placed under quarantine after being exposed to COVID, causing the ASP to be understaffed for at least two weeks while units still needed ammunition.
“We started making phone calls to USPFO leadership, and Col. Cartwright’s recommendation was to put out a FRAGO (fragmentary order) to Army and Air to get support from as wide a group of qualified people as possible,” Andersen said. “The Air Force is more than capable of providing support to ammunition operations, as is the Army. Air Guard provided us with two personnel who were on site within 48 hours.
“ASP operations has historically been an Army mission,” Andersen added. “Bringing Air into the mix expands our depth of mutual support and brings a new perspective.”
Airman 1st Class Lauren Luttges and Tech Sgt. Roger Van Tassel, both munitions specialists with the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno, were the two Airmen who reported to the ASP at Camp Roberts. It was the first time either of them had been to the Army National Guard camp.
“We’re out here helping with inspections, learning a lot about munitions on the Army side, and just helping as much as we can,” Luttges said. “It’s been an awesome experience. We’re happy to be here.”
“What we’re doing is all these different types of assets have an inspection cycle, so every so often they have to be opened up and inspected individually per a table of instructions that explains defects that could be there,” Van Tassel said. “Any kind of munitions – small arms, signal flares, you have the howitzer rounds right here, we’ve done some mortar rounds over there in the wooden boxes, pretty much all munitions items have an inspection cycle of some sort.”
Luttges and Van Tassel normally work with the missiles, countermeasures and 20-millimeter ammunition used by the 144th’s F-15 Eagle fighter jets. Munitions for ground units are not within their usual purview.
“It’s been very interesting,” Van Tassel said. “We’re having fun with it so far. We’re seeing a lot of stuff that we would never see in the Air Force, like howitzer rounds. We don’t inspect howitzer rounds at the 144th.”
While most Cal Guard members might associate USPFO mainly with pay, the office has a wide-ranging list of responsibilities, including procurement and contracting, internal review, supply and services, ammunition and weapons movement, transportation management, and data processing and integration. USPFO draws its personnel from both Army and Air Guard and has Title 5 civilian employees.
U.S. Air Force Col. Jonathan Cartwright is the USPFO director for California. He said the OPTEMPO at USPFO has been at an all-time high over the past year, and COVID-19 has caused numerous obstacles. “We’ve had Soldiers and their families test positive in multiple locations, but the team continues to meet all challenges from wildfires, floods, the pandemic, and civil disturbance supporting the National Guard missions and our communities,” he said.
To meet the demands placed on the office, he has made an effort for more integration between Air and Army in areas where either one or the other have not traditionally worked together, such as at the Camp Roberts ASP. He expects to see more Joint integration in the future.
“Ammo is ammo,” Cartwright said. “We have ammo handlers and inspectors in both the Army and the Air Guard. For this situation, we came up with a winning solution that integrated a Blue and Green team effort.”
Van Tassel and Luttges are expected to remain on the job at the Camp Roberts ASP for about three weeks.
“The Air Force was able to provide us with the experienced personnel we needed, and that has helped us get caught up on everything and basically able to continue to get done what needs to be done,” Risenhoover said.