FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood’s only Army Forces Command battalion was recognized Feb. 24 for the essential role they played in assisting Army force modernization efforts over the past year while COVID-19 mitigation protocols created a necessity for a change in procedures.
Col. Larry Burns, director of the Maneuver Support Battle Lab — assigned to Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas — thanked the 5th Engineer Battalion on behalf of himself and Col. Tobin Magsig, commander of Army Joint Modernization Command at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“With COVID and the constraints that were applied, getting Soldiers from other FORSCOM units to come to Fort Leonard Wood was a bridge too far,” he said. “So, the 5th Engineers stepped up and covered our requirements. They went beyond what was asked and did a fantastic job.”
Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Beckles said his unit was happy to help.
“Being engineers, (we’ll do) anything that can help with the breach — we live for the breach,” he said.
Burns said having “Soldier touch points” on emerging technologies is crucial.
“The key word in that statement is ‘Soldier,’” he said. “Without the Soldiers you don’t have these prototype assessments.”
Throughout the pandemic to date, 5th Engineers supported the assessment of 17 emerging technologies and four Army Engineer breaching tasks “that will ultimately lead to improved capability and protection for America’s Soldiers,” Burns said.
According to Kyle Henry, the Maneuver Support Battle Lab’s Experimentation Branch chief, many of the assessments were part of the annual Maneuver Support, Sustainment and Protection Integration Experiments, or MSSPIX, which provides capability developers with credible and validated operational experiment venues for their conceptual and materiel development. Due to COVID-19, what is usually one event on the calendar had to be spread throughout 2020 to be able to meet both mission and safety goals.
Henry said no matter how it’s organized, though, the Soldiers are there to provide “a non-biased look at these technologies, these capabilities.”
“Without the Soldiers, this would be a glorified tech demo,” he added. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. Soldier feedback is key to our analysis.”
One of the most recent assessments involved the 50th Multi-Role Bridge Company being tasked to reorganize into a general support bridge company concept to test force design updates.
“We provided bottom-up feedback from the Soldiers on what works and any recommendation for what we would change,” said Capt. Joe Kalinka, 50th MRBC commander.
While the 50th MRBC’s focus is on assault bridging, Kalinka said the GSBC concept focuses on fixed bridging, such as the line of communications bridge, which is intended for long-term emplacement. The three-week assessment required shifting entire platoons of Soldiers to mirror the GSBC organizational structure, and then carrying out a prescribed mission and scenario.
“I took who and what I have within the company, people and equipment, and made it look as close as I could to the GSBC,” he said. “In the end, we were able to say, ‘This is what worked; this is what didn’t; this is the extra equipment we’d recommend; and this is maybe some of the things we don’t need.’”
Kalinka said he’s happy his horizontal construction engineer Soldiers — commonly referred to by their military occupational specialty, 12 Novembers — were able to get additional “stick time” with a new 60-ton heavy crane the company was fielded in October.
“Overall, it was a great balance between training value for the company while also providing critical feedback to Army Futures Command,” he said.
One of the 50th MRBC’s 12Ns, Spc. Mario Andrade, was involved in an earlier assessment. He said the data collectors asked good questions.
“It was fun and pretty well thought out,” he said. “There was a sergeant first class who wanted to compare feedback from junior and more senior Soldiers. He made a point that there are a lot of things currently in the Army that, when he was a junior enlisted, he didn’t think would be implemented. But those things now have a larger overall impact on the Army.”
Burns presented the battalion with a framed certificate of achievement and a ceremonial hammer “for the trophy case.”
“At Army Futures Command, our motto is ‘Forging the Future,’” he said. “You helped us forge that future.”