CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait -- Thirty-six U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Charlie Company 68th Division Sustainment Support Battalion, enhanced their strategic proficiency during tactical convoy training exercises held from early November till mid-December, 2022 at ranges near Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
The purpose of the training operation was to test and validate the proficiency of the 12 vehicle crews with C Co 68th DSSB that participated in the tactical convoy training exercises.
A tactical convoy is a military operation used to securely move personnel and cargo by ground transportation.
Situational understanding of the operational environment, including the information environment and friendly and enemy force dispositions and activities, is necessary to understand how the enemy and other relevant entities will likely react to a convoy, according to the multi-service Air Land Sea Space Application Center, or ALSSAC.
This training helps prepare Soldiers to protect a convoy, which includes service members and logistical assets, by means of crew training, communication and radio familiarization, movement formations, halts, weapons training, CBRN and battle drills—including react to contact.
Through training progression—crawl, walk and run stages of increasing complexity—junior Soldiers, NCOs and officers with C Co 68th DSSB increase their ability to protect sustainment operations, said Capt. Ethan Moorman, commander of the company.
“You take a soldier that hasn't done something like this before and you train them to actually do something very complex, simulate the real-world danger, in a lot of ways, it really brings to life the training,” Moorman said.
Soldiers can use their experience in a training environment to guide their reaction in contingencies.
Safety is an important takeaway of the training, said 1st Sgt. Cedric Jones, C Co 68th DSSB first sergeant. Another important takeaway is the fact that the company can take Soldiers on transport convoys.
Transport convoys have changed dramatically in the technological sense in the course of the past few centuries.
Prior to and throughout the mid-late 19th century the Army used horses for large scale ground transport, according to Military.com
For example, the General Regulations for the Military Forces of Ohio 1861 states that on the appearance of the enemy during the march, the commander closes up the wagons and continues his march in order.
Moving forward to the 20th century and World War II, motor vehicles were adopted by the military and they were the standard for truck transport.
In the European Theater following the successful Allied invasion at Normandy in June 1944 the Red Ball Express, a truck convoy system, was conceived. Named after the red balls that emblazoned the GMC and Dodge trucks that were involved in the convoys, the convoy system—primarily staffed by African American Soldiers—began operating August 25, 1944 and ran until November 16 of the same year.
At its peak, the Express operated 5,958 vehicles that carried about 12,500 tons of supplies a day, according to the U.S. Army Transportation Museum.
In the 21st century, the technology and manufacturing strategies applied to Army trucks and other vehicles used for transport have improved dramatically. Vehicles are more durable, and they are faster and more tactical. But the broad philosophy that governs safety during convoys has largely remained the same despite the centuries past and it is reflected in the current joint service training publication on convoys.
According to the current Army publication on tactical convoy operations, when a unit is in contact with an enemy, maintaining movement is the first course of action.
Regardless of whether the transported haul is in a wagon or in the bed of a modern Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, the philosophy remains the same: keep the wheels moving.
Likewise, the strategy for reacting to direct fire contact is the same despite centuries past: keep the wheels moving and return fire.
And in the Kuwait desert in late November outside of Camp Buehring, Charlie Company 68th Division Sustainment Support Battalion (which is part of Task Force Red Ball, an homage to the Express) truck crew Outlaw 1-3 applied this strategy during their training.
“I’ll give you the direction, hold on,” said Sgt. Sean Bach, a motor transport operator with C Co 68th DSSB, truck commander for Outlaw 1-3. “Eleven o’clock.”
“Enemy troops 11 o’clock, 300 meters,” said Sgt. Caden Otjen over the net.
Otjen is a motor transport operator with C Co 68th DSSB, driver for Outlaw 1-3.
While Otjen gave the three Ds (distance, direction, description) to the tower, Bach directed the Outlaw 1-3 gunner, Spc. Benjamin McCue, a petroleum supply specialist with C Co 68th DSSB to fire and adjust.
“On the way,” McCue said, shortly followed by his firing of blank rounds from a M2 mounted to a turret ring that operates either automatically or manually, which he aimed at training targets as he stood through an opening, safety harness secured, on a platform situated between the back driver and passenger seats of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle, or M-ATV.
After some rounds were fired in the direction of the pop-up targets, Bach said over the net that the enemy is down and he called for cease fire.
At a later point in the exercise, Bach switched with McCue to simulate a gunner down contingency.
Bach, the truck commander assumed the role of gunner and Otjen remained as driver.
“The vehicle still needs to get from point A to point B,” Otjen said. “And our crew still needs to return fire.”
McCue, during this brief pause, said he trained for the first time as a truck gunner during the exercise. He thought that the training was good practice for the actual thing and the repetition of procedure is how everyone stays safe and completes the mission in a real engagement with the enemy.
“Shoot, move and communicate,” he added.
A training exercise in early December tested C Co 68th DSSB Soldiers on clear net communication from individual trucks to the tower and communication amongst multiple trucks in a convoy.
When Outlaw 1-3’s wheels started moving during one December training iteration, they practiced a battle drill pertaining to enemy engagement without firing any ammunition from the mounted M2s—a dry run—along with the rest of the crews in their training convoy. In the coming days of training, blanks would be employed, but in the crawl stage of this training iteration, practicing proper communication strategies was critical.
Each of the three vehicles in the convoy team had a different sector to cover as they drove, said Otjen.
Outlaw 1-3 as the lead vehicle covered the left side, the vehicle behind them covered the right side and the third vehicle covered the left side again.
The three needed to report what was going on in their sector on the net but do so in a way that didn’t lead to confusion.
Otjen said that he realized how necessary this training is for completing missions.
“How would someone be able to communicate properly with a truck that they’re protecting if they can't even communicate with another gun truck? They wouldn’t be able to,” Otjen said. “You need to be able to protect the convoy and do so with clear communication.”
Outlaw 1-3 improved as a team after each training session, said McCue.
The 12 truck crews with C Co 68th DSSB, including Outlaw 1-3 completed their qualification.
Each truck crew is now able to defend and support supply trucks and other vehicles during their missions.
Moorman said that the thorough, thought-out training provided to the Soldiers is important because no steps are skipped and everyone is provided the knowledge needed to accomplish their task.
“As leaders, we owe it to the Soldiers to provide them this type of realistic training,” said Moorman.