FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is prepared to deploy at a moment’s notice by land, air or sea, and the Fort Campbell’s railway system plays a critical role in ensuring readiness.
Soldiers and civilian employees work throughout the year to test the installation’s rail capabilities, most recently by loading more than 1,600 pieces of equipment Aug. 15-18 to support the Rakkasans’ upcoming Sea Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise and upcoming rotation to Joint Readiness Training Center-Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“We’re currently preparing for JRTC and doing a series of deployment nodes, which basically ensure we can deploy with limited notice through any means necessary,” said Maj. Chad Prosser, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd BCT. “With this exercise we’re going from rail to sea vessels, and then from vessels to actually convoying our equipment, which really exercises and stresses our maintenance systems at each node.”
The operation’s first phase involved staging vehicles and equipment at the Campbell Rail Operations Facility, which gave Soldiers practical experience with the deployment process.
“One of the mission readiness tasks is the ability to conduct rail operations,” said Russell Baggerly, installation transport officer. “This is an opportunity to exercise that skill set for the Soldiers because that’s how we go to war.”
“A brigade’s worth of equipment is quite a bit, and it’s impossible to fly an entire brigade set into a combat theater,” he said. “So, this is a deployment exercise, and it’s part of the go-to-war process.”
After being transported by rail to the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, the equipment will be loaded onto cargo vessels and shipped to Port Arthur, Texas. From there, the Rakkasans will convoy into Fort Polk for their September rotation at JRTC.
“This is the first time that the majority of our Soldiers will be executing a SEDRE, and it’s a very exciting opportunity for our Soldiers to hone in on an additional capability to win the fight,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jerome Gardner, the noncommissioned officer in charge for Forward Support Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT. “It’s not very common that we utilize sea vessels. In my 18 years in the Army this is my first SEDRE, but the units have been making it happen. There’s a lot of cohesion right now and it’s exciting to see a full-scale operation like this executed.”
Both the equipment transportation and the JRTC rotation ultimately serve 3rd BCT Soldiers and mission readiness, Prosser said.
“Doing this helps us make sure we actually have the amount of people we think we do who are ready to deploy,” he said. “And since we’re having to drive our equipment and put so much strain on it, this checks our maintenance program’s pre-exercise.”
The Installation Transportation Office also assists Soldiers with a variety of maintenance tasks and planning before a single vehicle hits the railway, including procuring rail cars and working with commercial railroad operators to inspect trains.
“It’s a lot of services that units don’t normally do because it’s not in their skill set, and the installation provides them as services,” Baggerly said. “The units prepare their equipment, and they bring it down the rail operating facility where it goes through a series of stations ... we make sure the equipment is inspected, the dimensions are verified and that it’s mechanically in good order so it can be safely moved by rail.”
Soldiers do their part to inspect the equipment as well, making sure each piece meets the strictest out-loading standards and applying the proper radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags.
“In addition to that coordination piece there’s a lot of paperwork, whether that’s U.S. Hazardous Materials Instructions for Rail or state clearances to get things moving between states,” Prosser said. “And you also have a fuel requirement, so it’s kind of a math game because you need to have a certain level of fuel but you also have to make it through this entire process, which could take days.”
Once Soldiers arrive, Prosser said 3rd BCT will remain at Fort Polk for approximately 30-45 days for a standard JRTC rotation. The entire brigade combat team is scheduled for the deployment alongside support elements, which means approximately 4,000 Soldiers will complete the training and its accompanying SEDRE.
“The SEDRE has forced us to adapt to win ... we’re making this happen and we will succeed,” said 1st Lt. Rainer Eldred, executive officer for the Forward Support Company, 1-187th Inf. Regt. “Short notice or no notice deployment exercises definitely cause us to examine the areas that need to be strengthened in our ability to rapidly move and ship out, but it is all part of the process of building upon the lethality of the 101st.”
Editor’s Note: Spc. Jacob Wachob, 40th Public Affairs Detachment, contributed to this report.