CRANE, Ind. – Each summer, roads through Naval Support Activity, Crane are bustling as Army Reserve and National Guard convoys of military vehicles rumble across the installation to rendezvous points with Crane Army Ammunition Activity workers. Like clockwork, the vehicles get loaded or unloaded with shipments of munitions as part of Operation Patriot Press, a nationwide training event for Army transportation units conducted by Army Materiel Command to improve readiness and total force integration.
The training event allows for Soldiers enlisted as motor transport operators to drive long haul distances and transport classified loads of munitions across the country. It’s also an opportunity for Crane Army and other ammunition depots across Joint Munitions Command to showcase their readiness to ship and receive munitions quickly and accurately.
“Soldiers are actually able to do their jobs during Operation Patriot Press,” 1st Lt. Michael Shoop, OPP liaison officer from the 246th Transportation Battalion, said. “It’s great experience for our newcomers and returning Soldiers to come to Crane Army to practice driving longer distances and doing onload and offload procedures. It gets them away from their home station after a year of COVID-19 and back doing what they love.”
The 1742nd Transportation Company from the South Dakota Army National Guard was one of a few units who got to train at CAAA in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced other units to cancel their OPP exercises. This year, the unit was back at Crane completing their annual training requirements for 2021.
The 1742nd returned to Crane Army after spending a year maintaining readiness while implementing COVID-19 mitigations in their training. Though the unit was able to complete requirements like weapons qualification and field training exercises in a manner compliant with South Dakota’s COVID-19 guidelines, the Soldiers desired missions more relevant to their military occupational specialty, especially as new Guardsmen joined the unit and needed experience.
“Working with CAAA adds so much value to our company, especially its retention, by giving our Soldiers hands-on, real-world mission-related experiences,” Capt. Rebecca Linder, Company Commander of the 1742nd, said. “Our Soldiers feel the importance and value of this mission – they take it just as seriously as the depots do.”
Nearly 300 Soldiers in transportation units moved through NSA Crane while transporting classified munitions from depot to depot. More companies will head in Crane Army’s direction when the mission picks back up in June, a test of readiness that the 1742nd believes that the activity will pass with flying colors.
“Doing the same mission at Crane last year really helped us a lot,” Master Sgt. Joel Marotz, acting first sergeant of the 1742nd, said. “Keeping leadership like Captain Linder and Steve Cummings in place was the key to making sure the operation ran smoothly.”
Crane Army civilians play as important of a role as Soldiers in OPP. Year after year, CAAA’s depot operations directorate assigns a team of civilians to run shipping and receiving operations during the exercise, led by Cummings, a Crane Army logistics management specialist. The team practices inspecting trucks and loads that transportation companies handle.
“Operation Patriot Press helps us at CAAA realize who we’re doing our jobs for. We get to interact with Soldiers on a more personal level,” said T.J. Todd, a materials handler leader, about the value of working side by side with Guardsmen and Reservists.
Soldiers and civilians working on OPP chalked up the success of the operation to thorough planning by the 246th Transportation Battalion and CAAA’s depot operations team, careful inspections and the overall good morale of participants.
“Crane is one spot we don’t run into any hiccups,” Marotz said. “The team is very good at putting out fires. We visited three depots on this mission, and by far, Crane Army stood above the rest. Steve Cummings and Col. [Stephen] Dondero, commander of CAAA, had a big role in making sure OPP ran smoothly.”
Punctuality was also key to successfully moving munitions from depot to depot. Crane Army and 246th planners were sure to have every moment at CAAA accounted for, from gas station fill-ups to getting through the front gate. Depot operations team members were ready to operate the container stacker and collect inspection paperwork as soon as the convoy arrived, and were always willing to lend a hand when Soldiers needed assistance.
“No one got hurt during the mission, and there weren’t any accidents at Crane. Everyone, Soldier and civilian, was doing the right thing,” Shoop said, “Our Soldiers were having fun on the road.”
“I love coming to Crane Army, I really do. I couldn’t speak more highly of it,” Marotz said. “People always bend over backwards at Crane to help.”
About Crane Army
Crane Army Ammunition Activity ships, stores, demilitarizes and produces conventional munitions in support of U.S. Army and Joint Force readiness. It serves as the second largest Army ammunition depot, holding roughly a fourth of the U.S. Department of Defense’s conventional munitions. CAAA was established in October 1977 as a subordinate command of JMC and AMC.