ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. (July 19, 2012) -- Mission accomplished. Those two words hold a lot of meaning for the more than 200 Soldiers here who have spent the last two weeks planning, coordinating, and putting in long hours to ensure millions of pounds of ammunition were safely transported over 500 miles of America's highways.

The Soldiers are from the 828thTransportation Battalion (Task Force Hellcat), and their mission to safely transport 3 million pounds of high-explosive artillery ammunition from the Depot here to Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Crane, Ind., was part of Operation Golden Cargo 2012.

For the past 20 years, the annual nation-wide operation has brought Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from around the U.S. together for two-weeks of logistics training where they hone their military specialty skills by transporting tons of ammunition, while providing real-world assistance to the Department of Defense and the Joint Munitions Command.

Initial planning for this year's operation began in late December of last year, but it wasn't until a few months ago that preparation really began in earnest.

"When I took command of this unit in April, we didn't have a lot of time left to plan things," said Lt. Col. Charles K. Joines, commander of the 828th. "I had to sit down with my entire staff and do some serious military decision making. We basically came up with a long list of things that needed to be done to accomplish the mission, and then started checking them off as we went along."

The challenges that faced Joines and his team were numerous. Many of the units involved had never worked together before, and a lot of the Soldiers were working side by side with civilians for the first time. They also had to learn and adhere to strict cargo regulations, meet Department of Transportation requirements and they had to accomplish the mission amongst a laundry list of safety concerns.

"One of the greatest challenges we faced with this mission was just the time and distance involved," said Joines. "Five hundred miles is a significant distance for the convoys to transit in one day, especially considering the types of roadways the Soldiers were traveling, the type of cargo they were carrying and some of the restrictions that were placed on them."

Each day of the operation a convoy of 13 to 18 tractor trailers had to be loaded, strapped, prepared for transport, inspected and driven to Crane, Ind., for off-loading. Each trip was scheduled to take between 10-12 hours, but when unexpected problems arose, such as flat tires and refueling delays, the Soldiers could find themselves on the road for more than 16 hours.

Despite the long hours and setbacks, the team found a way to end each day with their explosive cargo safely at its new destination; something Joines attributes to persistent communication.

"Communication has been the key to success during this entire operation," he said. "We conducted in-progress reviews, weekly teleconferences and we maintained constant communication with our leaders in the field. Without the constant flow of communication we would not have been successful."

Accomplishing their mission was obviously the main focus of the operation, but the Soldiers who put the work into it were also able to get a lot of real-world, hands-on training in the process.

"One of the main benefits to our Soldiers on this operation was that each and every one of them got the opportunity to work in their occupational specialty," said Joines. "We were able to get them out of the classroom environment and out here to put hands on the equipment and that type of training is invaluable."

One of the Soldiers receiving the training was part of the team responsible for launching and tracking the convoys.
"This was a new experience for me," said Spc. Robbieann E. Grice, a transportation management coordinator, 216th Movement Control Team. "Working with ammunition was something I had not done before, and learning all the weight restrictions and regulations involved with the convoys was challenging, but we worked through those pretty well and I learned a lot."

"Overall I'm very pleased with my Soldier's performance during this operation, especially with the conditions they had to work under," said Joines. "Whether they were operating forklifts, strapping ammo, staging the trucks or driving the convoys, each and every Soldier on the team was an integral part of mission success, and I could not be more proud of them."

Despite the challenges the Task Force faced, they were able to overcome them safely without any major incidents or accidents, Joines explained.

"Walking away from this operation knowing we accomplished everything we set out to do gives me a great sense of satisfaction and a sense of relief," said Joines. "The satisfaction comes from knowing we accomplished our mission on time and on target, and at the same time I'm relieved because I'm bringing all of my Soldiers home, and at the end of the day that is a great feeling."