Training range projects reflect ingenuity, cooperation

Pvt. T'Shawn Dennis from Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, fires a machine gun at opposing forces after his platoon was ambushed during the 23rd QM Brigade culmination field training exercise June 13 at Training Area 33. As a result of recent range expansions and improvements, AIT units here are delivering more robust training that will better prepare Soldiers for the operational Army. (Terrance Bell/U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs)
June 22, 2019

In February, Ordnance School advanced individual training Soldiers here hurled practice grenades for the first time on a newly built familiarization range and qualification course at Training Area 18.

It is among the latest success stories for an “Army Center of Excellence” tasked with reinforcing skills learned during basic combat training and getting Soldiers ready to adequately perform their missions upon arrival at follow-on assignments.

The hand grenade practice and qualification area is one of several training range improvements, modifications and additions made possible through the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Army Garrison and CASCOM’s training elements – partners that are laser-focused on the Army’s directive to grow operational-ready and combat-capable Soldiers.

“AIT students are here to train and learn the skills essential to soldiering so they are ready to fight on day one,” emphasized Scott Brown, who heads up the garrison’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, the agency responsible for installation training areas.

“The Army is stepping into an area they haven’t been in for a while,” he continued. “We are preparing for battlefields where we’ll see less of the counterinsurgency tactics and more instances of full-blown, large-scale combat. For that reason, you want Soldiers who’re ready to shoot, move and communicate and understand their mission from both a technical and tactical perspective. … From my standpoint, we have to make sure they have the tactical pieces as much as the technical knowledge to that end.”

Training and Doctrine Command has issued guidance that places greater emphasis on realistic and demanding field exercises that blend what’s learned in military classrooms – such as those of CASCOM’s Transportation, Quartermaster and Ordnance schools, and the Army Logistics University at Fort Lee – with fighting and combat survival skills.
Leaders of the 23rd QM Brigade realized they would need some training area modifications to meet those higher-headquarter expectations. Their idea was to create a compound that would accommodate all quartermaster skill training and a brigade support area modeled after the logistical hubs used in the operational Army. With garrison support, work began in November to fulfill the requirements and consolidate several sites that were being used in piecemeal fashion for culminating (end-of-AIT-course) field training exercises.

“We had a series of meetings (with the garrison) in the beginning to help identify areas supporting the vision and intent of the brigade commander (then Col. Gregory Townsend),” elaborated Maj. Jamail McGlone, operations officer S-2/3, 23rd QM Brigade. “We have now completely moved our round-robin, STX and all quartermaster MOS training into one area. Without the help of the garrison and DPW, it wouldn’t have happened. ”

For the record, Training Area 23 was enhanced and ready for action in roughly six months. It will host three-night, four-day field training exercises weekly for hundreds of Soldiers – more than 20,000 total on an annual basis. Among the improvements: an increase of roughly 130 acres stretching northward beyond B Avenue, adjoining another training area; and the addition of maneuver trails along with several concrete and gravel platforms for field vehicles and other equipment. It hosted a consolidated culmination exercise roughly five weeks ago, and the comments were favorable, said McGlone.

“I’ve had several noncommissioned officers and commanders tell me how moving to TA 23 greatly improved training, mainly in the area of warrior tasks and battle drills,” he said.

Adding to or enhancing training areas here is fraught with complexity. Fort Lee – essentially an academic campus covering a little less than 6,000 acres and serving 15,000 Soldiers on any given day – is a fraction of sprawling installations such as Fort Bragg, N.C. (161,000 acres and more than 50,000 troops). Classrooms are relatively plentiful but not field areas.

Furthermore, there are environmental and historical considerations and other issues at play. Wetlands, cultural and preservation areas need to be protected and safety regulations cannot be ignored. For example, the abundance of land at the range training complex located off River Road could not be considered for the QM brigade support area due to frequency of use by Basic Officer Leader Course students and the proximity of firing ranges, said Jason Walters, Integrated Training Area Management coordinator, Range Operations.

“Basically, any time the ranges are used for weapons qualification, the training areas behind them are unsafe for use due to the established surface danger areas,” he said. “We do not take risks with our safety protocols.”

The River Road area exclusion left few training sites open for consideration. TA 23 had been used by the Ordnance School’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal department in years past, and the garrison identified adjacent properties that could be added. Land acquisition, however, was only part of the job of creating a viable training space. The needed improvements would require funding sources for construction and materiel and creative solutions to fill in the gaps.

For starters, Walters was able to acquire Installation Management Command training funds to pay for more than 3,000 tons of gravel. The Cardinal Golf Club provided seed and a spreader to plant grass in the assembly area. The 23rd QM Bde. chipped in to pay for forestry thinning. The Ordnance School provided plasma cutters to trim rebar. Range Control employees built maneuver trails, vehicle platforms and constructed troop crossings, mostly using lumber and other materiel already on hand.

“We leveraged what we had readily available and made it happen,” said Walters, noting everything was completed in-house. “Everyone was on point.”

Walters said he worked closely with DPW’s Dana Bradshaw (Natural Resources Office) to ensure the brigade’s plans were in compliance with various environmental regulations. DPW’s Master Planning Division was involved in the training area designation process. Capt. Jennifer Alley and Paul Wilson from the brigade’s S-3 shop were instrumental in nailing down and tweaking training area specifications.

Mike Finnegan, who acted as a coordinator among other roles during the project, and Denis Todd, a carpenter and heavy equipment operator, were two of several Range Control personnel contributing to TA 23’s upgrade. Finnegan said the improved training area is an accomplishment on many levels, but more importantly, it will dramatically impact the brigade and its ability to provide a better field training experience.
“I think it has greatly enhanced their ability to train quartermaster Soldiers,” he said. “It has provided them with more flexibility than they had before, and they can take it from here and make it better.”

In addition to TA 23’s improvements, the garrison is putting the finishing touches on a second grenade practice range located on the western side of the post. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of June, said Walters.

In support of the 59th Ord. Bde., the practice grenade range built earlier this year at TA 18 was the first major FTX-improvement project completed for the Ordnance School. A land navigation course covering parts of training areas 15 and 16 was built shortly thereafter.

Work is underway in TAs 14-15-16 and 18 to create an Ord. brigade culmination exercise area, according to Finnegan. Additional work is scheduled in TA 14 the week of July 1 – including trail improvements and gravel equipment pads to support 832nd and 16th Ord. FTX requirements.

“The 59th Ord. Brigade is meeting (current FTX) requirements with bare essentials,” Finnegan noted. “We’re all excited about growing their capability in the months to come.”