CRANE, Ind. – Soldiers from the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1460th Transportation Company and the 266th Ordnance Company, U.S. Army Reserve-Puerto Rico, joined with civilian ammunition and logistics experts at Crane Army Ammunition Activity to sharpen their occupational skills and gain valuable ammunition-handling experience during Operation Patriot Press.
Operation Patriot Press is a U.S. Army Materiel Command initiative linking Army Reserve and National Guard units to real-world missions during mandatory annual training periods to better support the Army’s overall strategic positioning objectives. The long-term success of the program stems from a mutually beneficial opportunity for reserve units to work directly with active-duty counterparts under the U.S. Army’s Joint Munitions Command, which manages a complex munitions enterprise comprised of installations and depots across the United States where conventional munitions are produced, stored, distributed and demilitarized.
“It affords Soldiers with real-world opportunities to transport, distribute, care and manage munitions while meeting the Army’s goals associated with asset realignment,”
JMC Command Sgt. Maj. Petra Casarez, said. “The training is key to ensuring Army Reserve and Guard Soldiers are ready for any real-world missions.”
The ability to maintain a working knowledge of ammunition handling requires extensive practice that is not always widely available to reserve units. Crane Army has stepped up to host a variety of Army Reserve and Guard units over the decades as it provides a prime location for units to work on perishable skill sets to bridge that gap.
“The time that the Soldiers spend on the ground here at Crane provides the units the ability to practice and to hone their skill sets in safe, efficient ammo handling. It also provides excellent live mission support to CAAA,” Steve Cummings, Crane Army’s Depot Operations reserve coordinator, said. “For Crane Army it also provides a great opportunity for our civilian workforce to interact with the Soldiers that we are here to support. It is a great morale boost for everyone involved.”
Second Lt. Lazerick Hill, a platoon leader for the 1460th Transportation Company, explained the benefit of the realistic training for his Soldiers as it enabled them to become certified to haul ammunition. Fifty members of his Michigan National Guard unit brought twenty Palletized Load Systems—a specialized heavy tactical truck that can self-load and unload shipping containers and other freight, including pallets of munitions—with them for the two-week training.
“We now have a variety of Soldiers that are able to haul ammunition,” Hill said. “So now when those missions occur we have depth to trade off people…more depth in the unit for who can do what.”
Working alongside the Army civilians who manage the wide variety of munitions at Crane—some with decades of experience handling the 10,000 different end items in storage that represent nearly a quarter of the Department of Defense’s conventional munitions—meant that even experienced Soldiers were learning new skills by having the opportunity to perform support missions outside of the usual scope of their duties.
“I knew that we were going to be moving ammo, but I didn’t know that we were going to be moving 16-inch battleship rounds,” Sgt. Brandley Gamber, whose motor transport operator job with the Army has given him experience behind the wheel of many kinds of vehicles, said as his unit transported the obsolete U.S. Navy projectiles marked for demilitarization as part of a storage improvement mission. “When I was in artillery units I moved a ton of ammo, but this is something that is totally different.”
“Personnel on the base move ammo all the time, so they understand the ins and outs a little differently,” Gamber continued. “They explain how to do it a little differently and explain the reason why. And then my guys go and do it and now know a better way to do it and the reason why.”
Gamber said that his unit typically only handles small arms ammunition, but not larger caliber munitions like many of the artillery rounds stored at Crane. He also appreciated the opportunity for many of the newer Soldiers on his team to log some miles transporting these munitions across the large network of roads connecting CAAA’s storage magazines and logistics facilities in a controlled and safe environment.
“This gives them a good life experience being in a convoy on the highway and maintaining speeds,” he said. “For some of them it was something new that they had never experienced, which is very good. It just makes us better. I would say that there are quite a few corporals and below who have never had a chance to do it, so for them to see it, do it and touch it, it was very cool.”
Sgt. Mckenzie Domine, another motor transport operator in Gamber’s unit, agreed as a forklift loaded a pallet of the Navy projectiles onto the back of the PLS truck. “This has been our first annual training back since COVID that has been an actual mission,” Domine said. “We conducted a lot of drivers training the past two years but it’s been a lot of fun doing a real world mission.”
The recent pandemic hasn’t been the only obstacle keeping other units from training to their full capability. For some U.S. Army Reserve units like the 266th Ordnance Company, simple logistics and remoteness from large military installations like Crane play an even larger role.
“Back in Puerto Rico we don’t have a big ammo facility like this, just an ammunition supply point. That’s why we have to reach out to the states [for our annual training],” Sgt. Martin Soto, an ammunition specialist with the 266th, said. “We have a lot of experienced Soldiers in our unit who went to Poland and also Iraq so our unit has been busy but training like this is good; we don’t do this every day. It’s also a good experience to teach the newer Soldiers.”
Both Casarez and Sgt. Major David Lucas, the Senior Enlisted Advisor for the Assistant Deputy Commanding General (Army National Guard), Army Materiel Command, seized on the opportunity to visit with the Soldiers as they completed missions around the installation. Both were left with a strong impression of how much the Soldiers valued the training.
“It was amazing to see the seamless teamwork to accomplish the Army’s ammunition mission: Crane Army Ammunition Activity employees truly appreciated the opportunity to work with Soldiers on-site and the Soldiers enjoyed being able to hone their skills with critical tasks often not available at home stations,” Casarez said. “This teamwork shows the importance of close partnerships and collaboration between all the Army components in support of our Army’s mission.”
“The Army has a vision of providing ready, prompt and sustained land dominance,” Lucas said. “In order to achieve this goal we have to provide realistic training to not only our combat arms units, but our combat service support units as well.”
“The ability to bring Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard together and have them conduct real world missions that allow the troops to train on their equipment and practice storage reform, long haul and safe handling of ammunitions is why we will not fail,” Lucas added.
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 is a subordinate command of the Joint Munitions Command and the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which comprise arsenals, depots, activities and ammunition plants. Established in October 1977, it is located on Naval Support Activity Crane.