FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. – Over the past two decades, Fort Gregg-Adams Range Operations has accommodated lots of changes.
These were spurred by, among other things, changes in user populations, including decreases from unit deactivations and increases from the Base Realignment and Closure process, which added training troops and permanent party to the installation. Updates to training regulations and requirements as well as other events also have impacted how range training areas are operated, managed and sustained.
No one knows more about the changes than Thomas Taylor. Taylor, the recently retired range officer, said range operations today are starkly different from that of yesteryear.
“The army has really changed how we do business,” said the retired Soldier who began working at Range Operations here 23 years ago while still in uniform. “Back in the day, we came in, opened up, cleared down range and Soldiers fired at the targets. Then, we cleared you off and sent you home.”
The old way of doing business has given way to operations that are more streamlined, efficient and strategic.
“Now, it’s more planning,” said Taylor. “There are Program Of Instruction requirements – no one gets something because it’s on a wish list. We have to demonstrate a requirement. Once we do get it, it’s all incorporated into the range master plan.”
The range complex master plan is a 100-page-plus document describing how ranges are used, managed and sustained among related topics. It is compiled annually and reviewed at the installation’s higher headquarters all the way up to headquarters, Department of the Army.
Taylor, who began his civil service career in 2002, was Fort Gregg-Adams’ range officer when the 2005 BRAC plan mandated replacing the 800-acre field training area known as Logistics Warrior with the Ordnance Campus while doubling permanent party and student populations.
With a larger and growing population came increased demand and various requirements. Taylor helped to accommodate the changes through creative approaches and programs of efficiency, said Mike Finnegan, the range operations officer, who started work here as a civilian in 2004 as the range safety officer.
“Our training has definitely increased due to the changes for all the schoolhouses,” he said about the relocation of the Ordnance and Transportation schools here. “The building up of all those training areas on the main side of the installation was achieved mainly through the Integrated Training Area Management program, but Mr. Taylor was instrumental in getting all of it running and making sure we’re going in the right direction.”
The ITAM program – part of the Army’s Sustainable Range Program – is an ongoing effort to manage and maintain training lands and support mission readiness through sound practices. It was vital in helping to fulfill requirements of a relatively small 5,907-acre installation with only 2,346 acres set aside for training, according to Patrick Schrader, range planner, Range Ops. – In contrast, Fort Liberty, N.C., has 320,000 acres.
Most of the acreage sits at the north end of Fort Gregg-Adams within the main training complex bounded by Temple Ave., River Road and Interstate 295.
To fulfill growing training requirements, leaders and range personnel began looking for solutions to expand training areas. The efforts resulted in the development of roughly 300 acres of additional training areas since 2011, most of it located outside the main training complex. Several miles of maneuver trails also were added to existing and new training areas.
Noteworthy of the new additions were field training areas for the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade and 59th Ordnance Brigade, at TA 23 and TA15 and 16, respectively. Each accommodates overnight culmination field training exercises for hundreds of AIT students per rotation.
Many improvements to training lands and facilities were made as well. They included the renovation of Training Area 4, an aging small-arms range at the main complex that did not meet new range qualification standards. It also sorely needed repairs, said Taylor.
“When I got here, it rained and snowed and Soldiers were layin
g in the water (to fire weapons) because it didn’t drain well,” he said of the project completed in 2013 “We put in rubber mulch that drains well and lasts 20 years. Soldiers are comfortable today. They can focus on qualifying and not being miserable because they aren’t soaking freaking wet.”
The multimillion-dollar renovation also featured a new classroom, new ammo point, rebuilt firing positions, new targeting system and longer-distanced targets, said Finnegan.
“Basically, we tore that whole range down and started from scratch,” he said.
Currently, the Army Sustainment University’s Basic Officer Leader Course is the primary user of TA 4 and the other ranges within the main training complex. Each year, the complex hosts thousands of sustainment officers who learn field techniques and tactics during rotational exercises.
Also occurring during Taylor’s tenure were the addition of berms to TA 1 and 2; modifications to the TA 5 pistol range to accommodate newer ammunition; and the Army Best Warrior Competition, which the installation hosted 12 consecutive years from 2003-2014. It attracted the likes of visitors such as the Secretary of the Army, Chief of Staff and Sergeant Major of the Army.
“We supported it so well, they didn’t want it to go away,” said Taylor. “You don’t come back to a place unless you’re treated well, and everything is executed like it’s supposed to. …”
Jason Walters, the former Fort Gregg-Adams ITAM Program coordinator who arrived here long after Best Warrior’s departure, is Taylor’s replacement. He was the architect behind many of the new training areas but said Taylor was the guiding force in an approach emphasizing customer engagement, resourcefulness and innovation.
“Mr. Taylor gave us the freedom to be creative, to work with the units directly,” said Walters, who worked with a team of contractors as the ITAM Program coordinator. “He’s always supported us, and we made do with very little.”
In doing more “with very little,” Taylor was essentially thinking of installation coffers in the face of dwindling resources. His resourcefulness was noted in using donated asphalt millings and utility poles to stabilize maneuver trails, build bridges and other structures; using wood from old signage as dunnage; and stockpiling dirt from BRAC construction projects to use in a variety of ways. The latter saved the installations hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We’ve been using that dirt since I’ve been here to build up range berms, etc.,” said Walters. “We don’t have to truck in dirt or fill material. It was another example of his leadership in which he thought, ‘Let’s not pay trucks to haul this dirt off base. We’ll keep it. Someday we’ll probably use it.’”
Walters, who manages 15 employees as range officer, said his responsibilities are dauting considering Taylor’s work over the past decade.
“I’m just hoping to carry on Mr. Taylor’s legacy,” he said, “Taking the ideas he’s had over the years is what’s important to me and the team and to fight for the limited resources that we do get every year. That’s really the main thing. It’s easier to tell our story when we push more than 70,000 troops through the gates every year. That’s how we get funding. The main thing is continuing to allow the team to be innovative and get the mission done. I do not want to get in the way of things we’ve been doing the past 30 years.”
Walters came to Fort Gregg-Adams from the Army Training Support Center at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, where he was the geospatial information systems lead for the Sustainable Range Program. His Army training support career began in 1996 at Fort Cavazos, Texas (formerly Fort Hood).
Range Operations, a division of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, is responsible for managing and operating ranges and training lands in support of the National Defense Mission.