A student operator moves a container using the RT240 during 88H Cargo Specialist Course training Oct. 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The RT240 is one of several cargo handling machines students are required to operate in training. They receive additional instruction and certifications at their units of assignment. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
1 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A student operator moves a container using the RT240 during 88H Cargo Specialist Course training Oct. 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The RT240 is one of several cargo handling machines students are required to operate in training. They receive additional instruction and certifications at their units of assignment. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Spc. Jaime L. Feliciano Rodriguez gets set to operate an RT240 during 88H Cargo Specialist Course training Oct. 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The course is an offering of the Army Transportation School’s Maritime and Intermodal Training Department. Students receive eight weeks of training, learning the details and processes related to moving materiel, supplies, equipment and mail by land, sea and air. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
2 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Spc. Jaime L. Feliciano Rodriguez gets set to operate an RT240 during 88H Cargo Specialist Course training Oct. 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The course is an offering of the Army Transportation School’s Maritime and Intermodal Training Department. Students receive eight weeks of training, learning the details and processes related to moving materiel, supplies, equipment and mail by land, sea and air. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Staff Sgt. Quincey Chavis, an instructor with the 88H Cargo Specialist Course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, demonstrates knot-tying techniques to students during training at 3rd Port Oct. 28. Knot tying is one of the many tasks taught during the Crane Operations block of instruction focusing on ship cargo.
3 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Quincey Chavis, an instructor with the 88H Cargo Specialist Course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, demonstrates knot-tying techniques to students during training at 3rd Port Oct. 28. Knot tying is one of the many tasks taught during the Crane Operations block of instruction focusing on ship cargo. (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Staff Sgt. Quincey Chavis, an instructor with the 88H Cargo Specialist Course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, assesses the knot-tying abilities of Pvt. Hyejun Lee during training at 3rd Port Oct. 28. Knot tying is one of the many tasks taught during the Crane Operations block of instruction focusing on ship cargo. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
4 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Quincey Chavis, an instructor with the 88H Cargo Specialist Course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, assesses the knot-tying abilities of Pvt. Hyejun Lee during training at 3rd Port Oct. 28. Knot tying is one of the many tasks taught during the Crane Operations block of instruction focusing on ship cargo. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL
Pvt. Hyejun Lee secures a bowline to a hook during 88H Cargo Specialist Course training Oct. 28 at 3rd Port, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The course is an offering of the Army Transportation School’s Maritime and Intermodal Training Department. Students receive eight weeks of training, learning the details and processes related to moving materiel, supplies, equipment and mail by land, sea and air. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell)
5 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Pvt. Hyejun Lee secures a bowline to a hook during 88H Cargo Specialist Course training Oct. 28 at 3rd Port, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The course is an offering of the Army Transportation School’s Maritime and Intermodal Training Department. Students receive eight weeks of training, learning the details and processes related to moving materiel, supplies, equipment and mail by land, sea and air. (U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell) (Photo Credit: Terrance Bell) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – During deployments, the media typically focuses on the tearful farewells of family members as their military loved ones head off to some distant destination. It is a powerful image to viewers and readers; connecting them to the sacrifices of service members who defend the nation.

In contrast, the work of 88H cargo specialists – those with the responsibility of moving supplies and equipment to those far-off locations – is often seen as mundane by comparison and worthy of some background shots at the most.

The lack of media attention, though, does not lessen the pride or dedication of those who perform an essential function for military readiness, according to Staff Sgt. Jeffery Epps, an 88H Cargo Specialist Course instructor with the U.S. Army Transportation School.

“This work is very important,” he emphasized. “We’re the ones who get the equipment from point A to B. Every time a unit deploys, we’re the ones ensuring that its (cargo is) packed, shipped and documented properly. We’re the reason why troops get their stuff downrange – nice, safe and sound.”

Cargo arriving “nice, safe and sound” has its beginnings in an advanced individual training course taught at the T-School’s Maritime and Intermodal Training Department at JBLE. Students receive eight weeks of training, learning the details and processes related to moving materiel, supplies, equipment and mail by land, sea and air.

Critical to the training is the instruction teaching students how to operate materiel-handling equipment such as forklifts and cranes. During a field event that took place Oct. 28, roughly 20 students were honing their MHE skills while moving steel container boxes at Training Area 15.

“Today’s training focuses on how to get those containers dress-right-dress with others,” said Epps on location. “It’s not as easy as it looks. … It’s difficult for the newest students to get them nice and flush.”

Students were moving the containers using the Rough Terrain Container Handler, or RT-240. Colloquially called “RETCH,” the RT-240 is a 59-ton, wheeled cargo handler with a hydraulic arm capable of lifting 53,000 pounds.

In addition to learning how to safely operate the equipment and perform loading functions, Epps said the exercise allows students to see the benefits of efficiently using storage capacity.

“By doing this, they’ll be able to preserve space in work areas, allowing (a transport hub) to store more shipping containers,” he said.

Epps admitted the training becomes repetitive and perhaps a bit monotonous for students, but that is how they develop skills to the point that operators can “do it in their sleep.”

“Every day they’re out here improving their skills and learning more about how the machinery works, at what angles they should move and the (nuances that are necessary) to make their placements successful,” he said.

The RTCH is one of several cargo-moving machines students learn to operate during the course. Others include forklifts and winches. However, students like Pvt. Alexander Frank, who was in his sixth week of 88H training, said there is much to like about the mac-daddy of cargo movers.

“It’s very intimidating when you first see (the RTCH) because of how big it is,” he said. “The tires are bigger than I am. Once you’re in there, though, you just got to get comfortable. … It’s a lot easier than most equipment we learned about, and it’s fun to drive.”

Just down the street from TA-15 is JBLE’s 3rd Port, a 40-acre complex featuring a deep water pier for Army watercraft. It also includes cargo training facilities where 88H students learn several important tasks to include crane operations.

“The primary focus of crane operations is teaching students the equipment used; inspecting the (machinery and accessories) such as slings and hooks; and learning the different type of hook-up configurations,” said course instructor Staff Sgt. Alger Warthen.

Ship transport is a vital component of the military’s ability to move supplies and equipment, Warthen pointed out. It has been used in many contingencies including the wars in Southwest Asia.

The training facility’s centerpiece is a football-field-long land ship hosting two, three-story deck cranes with 25-ton lifting capacities. A deck crane familiarization was scheduled the same afternoon following the TA-15 exercise. Students receive five days of crane operation instruction in total.

“(Students) actually go up into the operator’s cab, learn how to start it and go through functions such as moving the crane left, right, up and down, and hoisting,” said Warthen.

Throughout the course of training, students also learn tasks such as accountability, hooking up cargo, maintaining MHE and loading cargo from containers, among other tasks. Most of what the initial entry Soldiers learn will take place outdoors at ports, airfields, railheads and warehouses.

More than 500 students graduate from the 88H course yearly. They bolster a force of roughly 3,800 88H sustainers in the active and reserve components.

However unglamorous or difficult cargo handling might seem, it has a strong appeal to young troops like Frank. He said it perfectly aligns with his interest of getting his hands dirty versus sitting at a desk all day.

“I chose this MOS because it looked like what I wanted to do on the civilian side – operating cranes and forklifts, picking up big containers and working in shipyards,” he said. “The work feels like you’re getting something done.”

“Getting something done” in the cargo handling world means making sure supplies and equipment are “nice, safe and sound” and where they need to be – work not likely to overshadow the tender and heartfelt embraces seen at moments of family separation or reunion.