FORT IRWIN, Calif. – The training rotations receive at the
National Training Center here can be brutal – challenging Soldiers
both mentally and physically to perform under extreme pressure.
Since the vast majority of training takes place among 1,200
square miles of Mojave Desert, there are environmental challenges as
well. The heat can soar to 115-plus during the summer and plummet to
low teens during the winter months, not to mention snakes, scorpions
The 50,000-plus American Soldiers and those of
our allied partners, who take advantage of it yearly, however, leave
better leaders and technicians according to those who test units
during their stay.
Staff Sgt. Marcus McCormick, of the 289th Quartermaster Company, provides a convoy its mission brief August 20,
2014 during a morning supply mission at the National Training Center. (U.S. Army photo by G. A. Volb, Fort Irwin Public Affairs)
Better known as observers, coaches and trainers, or OC/Ts
for short, teams of professionals from a myriad of combat
roles shadow unit counterparts, testing their capabilities
and offering insight along the way. The vast majority of OC/Ts
are hand-picked to provide their expertise given their
background – in most cases successfully deploying multiple
times and dealing with the same types of scenarios units
will be faced with at Fort Irwin – though in real-world
One such team of OC/Ts, known as the Goldminers, works with units to ensure
those responsible can provide logistics, personnel services,
and health service support. It's what Capt. Christina
Shelton, Goldminer's battle staff analyst and logistics
officer, refers to as the three key elements of the
sustainment warfighting function.
“We have the major
task of training two battalions on logistics operations,”
said Shelton. “That's approximately 800-1,000 Soldiers, and
we only have 33 permanent party OC/Ts to perform that
“We're essentially a team of teams that
observe, coach and train rotational training units on all
logistical operations,” added Master Sgt. Tremaine
Hennington, 40, from Jackson, Mississippi, and senior NCO
sustainment combat trainer.
Hennington relies on a
small number of permanent party OC/Ts plus guest OC/Ts from
the training unit and other installations around the Army.
“The toughest part is maintaining your relationship with
the training unit so they're receptive to our training,”
said Hennington, who will have been here for two years this
October and some 16 rotations. “While we're out here
coaching and mentoring, we're mindful in what we say and how
we say it.”
He said a unit's ability to communicate
with subordinate units is probably the toughest challenge
they'll face here. Second to that is their ability to
integrate with subordinate units, many of which come from
different installations and do things differently.
Much like real-world combat, Hennington said, “Command and
control is difficult early since many of the units are
meeting for the first time out here. Normally by training
day five or six, they start getting there though, and I'm
appreciative of the fact they are able to come together as a
unit that quick."
“NTC gives units the ability to
truly test their capabilities in a challenging environment,”
the master sergeant offered, himself having deployed twice
to Iraq for a total of 25 months.
In the field:
“Our sole purpose is to support the brigade combat
team,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan Cook, 23, of the 3rd Brigade
Support Battalion after engaging folks walking up on his
position more than an hour's drive from Fort Irwin proper.
“This is different than the training we receive at home
because it replicates down range events well,” the Covina,
California, native said. “It's a huge learning exercise for
Cook said he learned early to take a step back
and learn how to coordinate with other units to work that
“Then we had to focus on logistics,
making sure everyone had food and water,” said Cook. “We
also had to stress management of personnel – keep morale
high and ensuring they got what they needed to get the job
Mass casualty exercise:
Soldiers began showing up at the Role II medical facility,
Sgt. 1st Class Florence Erfe, 33, from the Bay Area, looked
on. As the Goldminer's medical trainer, she wanted to see
how the unit reacted to the scenario.
‘attack,' Soldiers are asked to go through their security
procedures, accountability checks and then clear the area of
casualties,” said Erfe, adding that there were 15 in this
The scenario tested the unit's
mortuary affairs, triage and treatment capabilities.
“Providing treatment to casualties, to the wounded who go
through the medical facility – such as required labs,
X-rays, and administering blood work,” is what we're looking
for them to provide. “Then making sure ‘wounded' are
evacuated to the next appropriate level of care. It's all
about patient care and saving lives.”
Maintenance is crucial if an Army's
logistics capability is to be effective. NTC's Goldminers
test a rotation's ability to respond to those challenges as
Sgt. 1st Class Marcos Moreno, 38, from San
Diego, and Goldminer maintenance trainer, said one of the
difficulties for maintainers is that much of the time they
are used in other roles, such as security.
have to figure out how to best use their personnel,” he
said. “I tell them it's best to have people dedicated for
the maintenance mission before actually needing them.”
Moreno said even the OC/Ts learn during exercises.
“We learn from each rotation as well,” he emphasized.
“And that helps following rotations since we pass along
those lessons, what we learned, to them.”
to Shelton, Goldminer OC/Ts routinely engage units to keep
them headed in the right direction through after action
reviews. While trainers like Soldiers to make decisions
initially, they don't let it get to the point they develop
“We know it's difficult out here,” she
said. “So we will help them when we can to ensure they can
provide those key elements needed to sustain the
By U.S. Army G. A. Volb
Comment on this article