Friday, July 13, 2012

Army National Guard Soldiers take part in Operation Golden Cargo, move ammunition thousands of miles

By Army Sgt. Daniel Haun and Army Staff Sgt. Gary Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

WINNEMUCCA, Nev. - Soldiers from the Army National Guard took to the road recently with other troops from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Reserves as part of Operation Golden Cargo, a logistics operation designed to move ammunition to military installations throughout the United States.

The operation involved more than 2,000 service members and marked a real-world opportunity to put their training to use.

"It provides a real-world mission for the soldiers to accomplish," said Army Capt. Robert L. Blankenship, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 329th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, which took care of troops as they came through Winnemucca. "It's not just a training exercise. There's cargo to be moved. There's Soldiers to be taken care of and there's a logistical side to all of it."

A few miles away outside Winnemucca is an asphalt-covered Department of Transportation yard, converted into a staging area where service members exchange trailers loaded with ammunition.

By transferring the cargo from one truck to another driven by service members from a different unit, the operation maximizes safety and keeps the shipment moving. Soldiers are only allowed to drive a limited number of hours before they have to stop and rest.

Army Pvt. Phil C. England, of Payson, Ariz., a truck driver with the Arizona Army National Guard’s 1404th Transportation Company, began checking his vehicle after arriving at the staging area. He said he has only been with his unit about four months.

"It's all new stuff," he said of the operation. "It's a completely fresh environment. Nothing that I'm used to."

The newness extends to England's vehicle -- a Palletized Loading System truck -- a type he had never driven before Golden Cargo.

"It's a bit of a learning curve, but it was good," he said.

Other Soldiers were also enthusiastic about the start of the operation. Army Sgt. Hannah Wilson, also a truck driver with the 1404th Trans. Co., said this is her first annual training with the unit.

"I'm looking forward to getting my driving time in," she said. "Getting on the road."

Almost 200 soldiers at any given time are expected to stay at the National Guard armory in Winnemucca, where they are provided a necessary break from the road. They sleep on cots in the gym-like drill hall and are fed using a dining facility run by the 729th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit out of Fresno, Calif.

The facility and local operations are handled by the Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 329th CSSB, in Parsons, Kan. The real-world operation serves as a way for its Soldiers to practice their skills in making sure the troops are provided for.

"It puts a little bit of motivation behind what we're trying to do, because if somebody drops the ball then a Soldier's not getting taken care of," Blankenship said. "And that's what we're about -- taking care of soldiers."

Meanwhile, similar activities are underway at Blue Grass Army Depot in Lexington, Ky., as the exercise kicks off.

"Golden Cargo is the simple movement of ammunition out of the Blue Grass Army Depot here in Lexington, Ky., to other depots within the United States," said Lt. Col. David Gayle, battalion commander of the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 1050th Transportation Battalion and Task Force Wildcat. "The purpose is to move ammunition to other depots for shipment to other parts of the United States Central Command to support the war fight for overseas contingency operations," he said.

Gayle, a Blythewood, S.C., native, emphasized the importance of ammunition movement training taking place across several state lines.

"It's important because we're supporting the war fight and supporting the Joint Munitions Command,” he said. “It's more or less the culminating event for Guard and Reserve units: they do a lot of drill weekends throughout the year and this is the culminating event that brings it all together," said Gayle.

As Task Force Wildcat begins operations, Gayle underscored the need for safety considerations.

"The biggest thing they need to do is to be safe. They need to look out for each other, watch for the hazards, and be able to mitigate those hazards," he said.

Spc. Jeremy Gullo, a Buffalo, N.Y., native and movement control specialist with the 888th Movement Control Team out of Providence, R.I., said he hoped to use these skills in preparation for mobilization.

"I am hoping to do more of my military occupational specialty,” he said. “I just reclassified one week ago. I am hoping to get real in-depth with it and learn what I can for this mobilization. I think this is going to be an excellent mission and I am looking forward to doing what I can do."

Army Staff Sgt. Brenden Wells, from Philadelphia, another 888th MCT member, also emphasized the importance of this training leading up to mobilization.

"We are a mobilizing unit so we'll also be conducting pre-mobilization in between our missions. We're just ensuring that all convoys are taking the proper safety guidelines to make sure they are following all the requirements," said Wells.

"I hope the mission goes successfully that all the soldiers gain even more expertise and knowledge," he said.