FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska — Army Field Support Battalion-Alaska, or AFSBn-Alaska, supported the first large-scale combat operation training in Alaska since 1989. The U.S. Army’s first Regional Combat Training Center rotation in Alaska was designed to increase the Arctic proficiency of all units involved and inform U.S. Army requirements needed to implement the Army’s Arctic Strategy.
Subordinate to the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade, AFSBn-Alaska’s mission is to integrate and synchronize the delivery of U.S. Army Materiel Command capabilities for U.S. Army Alaska mission requirements. The battalion utilized the regional training center rotation to display and exercise their support and sustainment proficiencies through their logistics readiness centers, or LRCs, that enable U.S. Army Alaska to deploy, fight and win in an arctic environment.
“The battalion integrates, synchronizes and delivers Army Materiel Command capabilities in support of U.S. Army Alaska requirements,” said AFSBn-Alaska commander, Lt. Col. Terrance Kratz. “We increased the capacity of our LRCs to account for increased installation support for the exercise and employed a Division Logistics Support Element, known as a DLSE, to bring logistics assistance forward at the division level.”
Temperatures in Alaska throughout March can range from 45 degrees below zero to positive 45 degrees, with wind chills on average reaching as low as 60 degrees below zero. During the training, the average high temperature was 5 degrees above zero with the coldest low reaching 30 degrees below zero; posing challenges for keeping equipment fully mission operational but also ensuring Soldiers had adequate nutrition needed for operating in the extreme cold.
Although AFSBn-Alaska is accustomed to the extreme weather conditions, they still needed to adjust their support requirements.
“Our team had to work through various constraints due to the weather conditions, specifically when it came to where we located the DLSE to optimize our support throughout the training,” said Kratz.
Road conditions and the distance between the different training areas affected the battalion’s original concept of support, according to Kratz.
“Our original intent was to have the full team co-located with the division’s G4, or logistics section; however that meant our experts from the life cycle management commands, known as LCMCs, would have to travel 90 miles on dangerous roads when a request came in from the division,” said Kratz. “We decided to stage the LCMC team near the brigade support area to significantly cut down on the time it would take for the team to deploy forward, if needed, while also keeping the safety of all involved a priority.”
Logistics Readiness Center Support
“This was the largest exercise in recent memory in Alaska with personnel coming from Hawaii, Washington state and Louisiana to name a few,” said Maj. Alexander Wade, AFSBn-Alaska’s support operations officer. “The capabilities at our logistics readiness centers at Fort Wainwright and Fort Greely ensured units participating in the exercise had gear and supplies specific for their missions and the environment they were operating in.”
LRC Fort Wainwright issued food, clothing, fuel and munitions. According to Wade, the battalion issued more than 200 pieces of arctic-specific OCIE, organizational clothing and individual equipment, more than 300,000 total rations and more than 600,000 gallons of fuel. The battalion also assisted units draw more than 1 million rounds of munitions for the exercise. LRC Fort Greely dispensed 30,000 gallons of fuel and provided transportation for passengers, cargo trucks and unit equipment.
“A large-scale Arctic operation doesn’t just inform us on how to improve the support we provide Soldiers in regards to equipment readiness; we also identify shortfalls, or potential risks relating to sustainment in the field units in the lower 48 don’t encounter,” said Wade.
The Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, also known as the JCCOE, visited Alaska during the exercises to meet with food service Soldiers and personnel to assess the field feeding readiness in the Arctic.
According to the JCCOE trip report, one challenge the food service teams must account for is the use of water for field feeding. Aside from keeping Soldiers hydrated, water is necessary for food preparation in field kitchens and preparation of individual rations. In arctic environments, the meal, cold weather ration, or MCW, are used because components of the better-known meal, ready to eat, or MRE, typically freeze.
Hand washing is necessary for sanitation in the field feeding environment. However, when operating well under the point at which water freezes, units need water heating mechanisms that allow for hand washing in the field environment and that prevent water freezing while it is dispensed.
The water trailers utilized during the exercise had mounted heating systems, thus preventing spigots from freezing and providing usable water for hand washing and meal preparation.
“Not everything we learn during exercises is how to improve. Exercises reinforce processes and procedures that work well,” said Wade. “Based on the JCCOE trip report, the visiting team was pleased with the performance of the water trailers.”
Division Logistics Support Element
While the LRCs were busy operating as the exercise support element, AFSBn-Alaska’s DLSE supported deploying units in the field with equipment and logistics requirements.
“The DLSE is a division level asset providing LCMC support, which includes U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command and U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, to increase readiness,” said Wade. “When units need support on the battlefield, the go through the DLSE to coordinate what is called the call forward process.”
A DLSE works with the division to prioritize the finite resources the units request.
“Throughout the planning and execution of [Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center] 22-02, it was crucial the DLSE communicated its mission and call forward process in order to accomplish our task of validating U.S. Army Alaska’s large-scale combat operation capabilities,” said Wade.
The call forward process, Wade explained, involves the unit requesting support through their command who will bring it to the division. The division then relays the request to the DLSE who then works with the LCMC representatives to deploy the appropriate resource to the field.
“The purpose of the DLSE comes down to resource management,” said Wade. “The DLSE forms a continuous line of communication from the tactical division to the Army’s organic industrial base while accounting for all Army Materiel Command assets, personnel and equipment on the battlefield.”
AFSBn-Alaska’s DLSE fielded more than 400 support requests throughout the duration of the exercise.
Overall, Kratz said, the 402nd gained a better understanding of the environment and readiness requirements, which will posture the team to support future Arctic missions.
“We treat every operation and exercise as a rehearsal to build and maintain a ready force,” said Kratz. “Our team utilized the Alaska’s regional combat training center rotation as an opportunity to understand, experiment and learn how we can best bring the sustainment and materiel enterprise to the Arctic and will inform how we fight in the high north should the need ever arise.”
Planning is underway for the next Regional Combat Training Center rotations in 2023.