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 and brownouts.
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.
U.S. Army 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 combat.
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 mission.”
“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 us.”
Cook said he learned early to take a step back and learn how to coordinate with other units to work that bigger picture.
“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 done.”
Mass casualty exercise:
As “wounded” 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.
“Following the ‘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 particular exercise.
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 well.
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.
“Units 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.”
According 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 bad habits.
“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 warfighter.”
By U.S. Army G. A. Volb
Provided through DVIDS
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