By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)January 10, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla.-- 434th Field Artillery Brigade personnel got back to their Basic Combat Training mission Jan. 7 as more than 3,000 Soldiers returned to Fort Sill from the annual BCT holiday exodus.
Col. Mike Dvoracek, 434th Fires Brigade commander, spoke highly of everyone in his brigade who made sure BCT Soldiers either left promptly or took care of those who elected to stay here.
"This really was a team effort everybody did their part and that's the great thing about this brigade," said Dvoracek. "We shipped 3,051 Soldiers and the majority left in under a 12-hour period."
Before they left, supply personnel made sure Soldiers had meals to go with them, and the personnel section processed more than 5,000 leave transactions just to make sure everything was done right.
The brigade then used all transportation means available as some Soldiers left with their families, and others boarded buses or caught airlines in Lawton, Dallas and Oklahoma City. While most Soldiers traveled to points all across the United States, one journeyed to the far, distant land.
"One Soldier, from India, returned home not only for the holidays, but to get married, too," said Lt. Col. Marcus Jones, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery commander.
In a mission that doesn't offer many breaks, the 850 Soldiers who form the brigade's cadre also took up to two weeks leave to spend time with their families and friends. Many of those who remained on duty took care of the nearly 150 BCT Soldiers who stayed at Fort Sill for the holidays. Those cadre will get time off later.
Dvoracek said the holiday break reaffirms the Army's commitment and how it values its families.
"This was about getting those Soldiers back to spend time with their families both the newest Soldiers in training and our cadre all were able to take this time and return with fresh energy," he said. "It shows we are committed to the families, especially for our permanent party, and this should pay big dividends to the brigade and its mission."
Drill Sergeant (Sgt.) Maria Hernandez, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th FA, left Fort Sill bound for a 10-day leave in Dallas shortly after BCT Soldiers left post.
"To be home, especially for Christmas, and to see all my extended family was awesome," she said.
Though she enjoyed being with her family again, Hernandez said she couldn't stay away too long.
"I like the military and seeing the enthusiasm in the returning Soldiers. I'm glad to be back and am ready to move on with training," she said.
For those BCT Soldiers who stayed here, Jones and his 1-19th FA Soldiers managed the Soldiers' day-to-day activities to give them the best holiday experience possible. He thanked the Fort Sill Garrison and Directorate of Logistics employees who overcame the snow and ice that arrived on Christmas.
"DOL stepped up and there were no issues coordinating troop movements; we were able to get them to the dining facilities, which were open and well supported. I can't say enough about the ease of coordination with the garrison and DOL, except they were fantastic," he said.
"We made an effort with the Fort Sill community and directorates to provide the Soldiers with a lot to do," Jones added. "MWR was great in coordinating a lot of activities through the Armed Forces YMCA."
Soldiers from the various battalions within the brigade led each activity whether on or off post. These included trips to Oklahoma City to take in a Barons hockey game on New Year's Eve and to Fort Worth for the Armed Forces Bowl. Jones said a couple other activities really drew attention to the community involvement the Army enjoys here at Fort Sill.
"The Blue Star Mothers took our Soldiers to Oklahoma City, gave them breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel, played laser tag and treated them to a barbecue dinner," he said. "All this happened because of the kindness and goodness of their hearts."
Finally, on Christmas Eve 66 Soldiers, in groups of two to six, went to peoples' homes in the area under the Adopt a Soldier program. At each home, Soldiers stayed for dinner and spent Christmas Eve with the host families. Jones said by all accounts he received it was very successful and enjoyed by all.
As of Jan. 4, all but two Soldiers were back on post. One got sick on leave and remained hospitalized, the other expressed hesitancy to come back.
"To have only one out of 3,000 is a pretty good record and speaks highly of the Soldiers we have in the Army today," said Dvoracek.
The colonel added around the brigade the benefits of the break are readily apparent he sees the renewed energy in his drill sergeants and hears the enthusiasm and commitment in the BCT Soldiers as they go about their training.
"They are volunteers who want to finish their training and get on with their careers. We're proud of what they've done and how they represented the Army while on leave," he said. "Now, they're back to complete basic and get on to their Advanced Individual Training."
The colonel said 2013 will be a busy year for the brigade. Despite talks of a troop drawdown, the brigade's mission will increase from 2012 as the brigade will do 85 cycles of BCT and train 19,100 Soldiers. Fiscal 2014 then ups the ante again as the unit will train even more Soldiers.
Along with the increase in training, construction projects dominate much of the east side of Fort Sill.
A second training barracks upgrade will open in spring, then work begins on the upgrade to a third set of barracks. Crews will begin building the new 95th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion adjacent to the brigade headquarters in a project that should open in spring, 2014. Also crews will soon break ground on a 1,200-seat chapel that will serve multiple purposes including basic training graduations.
"We will be kind of self-contained here in a couple years," said the colonel.
Coming to work recently, Dvoracek said hearing the roar of the BCT Soldiers felt good and excited him, knowing the east side of post is coming back to life.
Jan. 7, E Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th FA Soldiers worked their way through the Conditioning Confidence Course, one of the first team building exercises they face in training. Pvt. Shaun Barkes displayed high energy as he scurried up a rope eliciting calls of "monkey" from his drill sergeants.
"It meant a lot to me to go home and see my family and friends," said the Pheba, Miss., native who envisions a 20-year career and possibly a jump to the officer corps. "I'm happy to return to Fort Sill and motivated to complete Basic Combat Training."