An Arkansas Army National Guard field artillery brigade, augmented by units from other states, is making tracks to Camp Guernsey’s North Training Area for a large-scale training exercise.
Transporting military equipment is often the duty of a specialized transportation unit, or contractors, but for Western Strike participants, it is the main focus of the brigade’s three-week training exercise, according to 1st Lt. Timothy Jones, a field artillery officer assigned to Arkansas’ 142nd Field Artillery Brigade.
He and hundreds of other artillerymen from Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama spent most of a week at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC railyard in Guernsey. There they unloaded various artillery systems, trucks, Humvees, ambulances and other vehicles from five trains, hauling 360 cars, making it the largest such operation at the facility.
Jones said the brigade is training to simulate an emergency deployment, which they haven’t done in more than two decades. A major objective for the brigade is to move its own equipment and deploy it in an unfamiliar location.
“When Operation Desert Storm happened, everyone had to move their equipment and get it shipped overseas. After that, units started falling in on equipment that was already staged in theater,” he explained. “So we’re relearning how to do this, and really at the crawl stage of the crawl, walk, run training cycle.
“Loading, staging and deploying the equipment is the main focus of this exercise. We will certify our fire tables and all that when we get out to the field, but really we can do that at any training facility, this is the important part, to be able to mobilize anywhere, anytime.”
Alabama Army National Guard Spc. Lonnie Crawford, an artilleryman with the 1/117th Field Artillery Brigade, was in the same shoes as many of the red legs working in the mud and rain in the railyard.
“I’ve never done this before,” Crawford said of his current duty and his previous one at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, where he and his colleagues loaded the train cars bound for Wyoming. “We didn’t train for this, we just kinda learned as we went along.”
“It’s a little nerve-wracking moving your sergeant’s truck for him,” Crawford added, with a grin, “You don’t want it to fall off.”
His crew mate, and a fellow cannon crewmember, Spc. James Westbrook, said he’s feeling good about his unit’s capabilities.
“We’ve moved our stuff in the air, and on the ground and now by train; we are fully capable now to go anywhere,” he said.
Once the vehicles were moved off the train cars, they were staged nearby, and are awaiting a surge of soldiers that will be driving them to the training areas, to do with them, what they are meant to do. The main body arrived June 1.
Col. Joseph Huss, Camp Guernsey commander, visited with some of the Southern visitors in the railyard. They were unconcerned about doing a hard job they hadn’t been trained for, in less than ideal conditions. Actually, most said they were glad to get away from the heat and humidity back home.