FORT BLISS, TX — Soldiers assigned to the 377th Transportation Company “Heavy Trucks,” 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, participated in a week-long tactical exercise from March 4 through 8, to prepare the unit for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The 377th TC specializes in the movement of heavy equipment which means everything from cranes to M1-A1 Abrams tanks, which plays a vital role in the logistical operations of the greater Army.
The exercise began with the unit occupying a training area north of Fort Bliss where conditions were recreated to replicate overseas contingency operations. Once there, the unit began training in convoy operations involving reacting to improvised explosive devices and enemy combatants or aiding local nationals in need.
Spc. David Butler, a wheel mechanic, of Heavy Trucks Company, said there were things he learned even though it will be his second deployment with the Heavy Trucks Company.
While the convoy negotiated its route, troops ran into challenging obstacles. The convoy came in contact with an ‘injured’ local national who required assistance. Soldiers had to decide to assist the person or continue on with their mission. The convoy stopped and rendered aid.
“You need to try to stabilize them but don’t let it interfere with your mission,” Butler said. “It’s important to show them that you are not there just to disrupt people’s lives. You want to show them that we actually do care.”
The Soldiers were presented with a group of peaceful protesters. First instinct may have been an offensive approach since being able to distinguish enemies from ordinary citizens can be difficult.
“[Soldiers] need to realize that not everybody over there is your enemy just like not everyone there is your friend,” said Capt. Jon Bender, commander of Heavy Trucks Company.
“It’s important to have situational awareness and notice the tell-tale signs between a possible hostile enemy compared to someone who may be protesting but doing it peacefully. Part of the challenge is having a good understanding of the culture,” Bender added.
The overall purpose of the training was to certify their Soldiers prior to going to Afghanistan, Bender said.
“We’ve got a lot of new Soldiers and a lot of new people coming in. Whenever there was a variable, the way they reacted was very [noncommissioned officer] driven – because they are the ones with that experience.”
“Nothing can really prepare you for the real thing,” said Spc. Stephanie McAllister, a truck driver assigned to Heavy Trucks Company. “
But in this kind of environment it’s the best you are gonna get. You get to see with your own eyes how things can really play out. It gives you a better idea and concept of what you can do.”
“As a transportation unit, specifically a heavy truck unit, there are training requirements that [the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.] just doesn’t provide,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Simmons Jr., 142nd CSSB.
“The challenges this unit may experience may be unique so the training that’s required would also have to be unique, transportation wise.”
As operations in Afghanistan begin to decrease, units are also experiencing a decrease in the available funding which brings a new challenge for units who have experienced more than ten years of war.
“When the war was in full swing everyone wanted to give the war fighter whatever they needed and the funding existed to make that happen,” Simmons said. “[Units] were able to identify a piece of equipment they wanted and say, ‘I need it and I need it now.’ But now we have to take what we have, consider it and forecast the usage of it.”
Simmons also explained that although units now have to take a tactical approach to budgeting, the unit is not deterred.
“It’s really just going back to a method that had always been in place and an ability the military has always had,” he said. “But we are coming from an era where we once got everything we wanted. I’m confident that even with budget constraints, we are going to be outfitted with everything we need to do the mission and to be successful.”