Picatinny battle captain hones skills in Afghanistan

By Mr Eric Kowal (RDECOM)November 21, 2011

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PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - If you have ever watched a major crisis unfold in the movies, or perhaps even in real life, you can picture in your head the exact layout of a command center, often referred to as an emergency operations center.

The scene may be both chaotic and hectic with the influx of information pouring in, some factual and but most often distorted, and some irrelevant. Yet at the center, wrangling chaos into order for these operations is one person, a battle captain.

Travis Rodenburg currently serves as the Emergency Operations and Planning Officer, the civilian equivalent of a battle captain, for the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) with additional duties as the organization's anti-terrorism officer.

In that capacity, Rodenburg can often be found in the large emergency operations center (EOC) located in Building 95 here at Picatinny Arsenal during an installation Force Protection Exercise.

Many employees are not affected or do not see the activities during these exercises, and most may not understand the role that he plays in these simulated exercises or in real life.

Rodenburg recently returned from a "vacation" of sorts where he took his battle captain role and applied it to real-world operations.

Rodenburg volunteered to leave behind his wife and four young daughters--including a baby born just one month before his departure--to fill a temporary position as a battle captain and operations officer supporting the 401st Army Field Support Brigade in Afghanistan.

He shared responsibilities with a Lieutenant Colonel with 12-hour shifts, with Rodenburg receiving the bulk of night assignments. Rodenburg's mission was to assist in the oversight of the daily operations of the brigade and to provide a seamless transition between shifts.

Rodenburg explained that he would often deal with every kind of logistics issue possible except for ammunition resupply.

"If you are familiar with the classes of supply, class four is ammo, I was not responsible for that but I was responsible for classes one, two, and three," Rodenburg said. These classes include food, rations, maps, tools, housekeeping supplies, petroleum, and chemicals; pretty much everything you would need to keep a brigade functioning."

Other daily operations included responding to Red Cross messages as well as preparing fragmentary orders and operations orders as well as preparing for briefings.

Previously, Rodenburg served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force from 1997 -- 2005 and then at Rock Island Arsenal, Il., before transferring to Picatinny Arsenal in 2009.

But none of that prior training and experience prepared him for the initial shock that would come as he stepped foot in Afghanistan.

Rodenburg said that Soldiers would often receive indirect fire (IDF) from the Taliban, but it wasn't until a few weeks had passed that he realized the attacks came in cycles.

The Soldiers received indirect fire on an average of one to four times a week. When these attacks occurred, his duty as a battle captain was to send Soldiers out to predefined areas and coordinating their actions with the remainder of the base operations.

He would also often monitor intelligence reports on the points of origin and points of impact of the IDF and receive accountability reports from all his personnel.

"On the night before the tenth anniversary of 9-11 we recorded five separate incidents, most notably a suicide bomber at the gate," Rodenburg said.

On the actual day of the ten-year anniversary of Sept. 11, personnel were required to stay indoors as a precaution.

Although Rodenburg was far from home, he could still communicate with his family almost daily through social media websites such as Facebook and the video teleconferencing application Skype.

He also helped to start the construction of a golf course for troops to use in their leisure time. While the terrain was mainly desert, Rodenburg said they made do with what they could obtain.

Rodenburg admits that it took time to get accustomed to sharing a room with seven other people because everyone had individual missions and work schedules.

"We had absolutely no privacy," Rodenburg said.

Before his deployment he attended a three-day course in Winchester, Va., where he was issued uniforms and the equipment he required.

"If you do not volunteer for these kinds of jobs, then an active duty service member or a reservist has to fill in," he said.

One of his most memorable experiences was taking part in a memorial service for the 30 Americans killed Aug. 6 after their Chinook helicopter was attacked and crashed.

The 30 casualties included 22 Navy SEALs, three Air Force combat controllers, a dog handler and four crew members.

After returning stateside Sept. 22, Rodenburg took a few days off before reassuming his duties at Picatinny Arsenal.

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