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Pfc. John Kreuger, front, and Spc. Roberto Nelson, both of the 501st Special Troops Battalion, stay alert as they pull out in a convoy during training at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Wednesday.
Pfc. John Kreuger, front, and Spc. Roberto Nelson, both of the 501st Special Troops Battalion, stay alert as they pull out in a convoy during training at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Wednesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Pfc. John Kreuger, front, and Spc. Roberto Nelson, both of the 501st Special Troops Battalion, stay alert as they pull out in a convoy during training at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Wednesday.
Pfc. John Kreuger, front, and Spc. Roberto Nelson, both of the 501st Special Troops Battalion, stay alert as they pull out in a convoy during training at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Wednesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Soldiers for the 501st Special Troops Battalion call for assistance after a simulated attack during convoy training at Rodriguez Range Wednesday.
Soldiers for the 501st Special Troops Battalion call for assistance after a simulated attack during convoy training at Rodriguez Range Wednesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Soldiers for the 501st Special Troops Battalion hook a towbar to a disabled Humvee after a simulated attack during convoy training at Rodriguez Range on Wednesday.
Soldiers for the 501st Special Troops Battalion hook a towbar to a disabled Humvee after a simulated attack during convoy training at Rodriguez Range on Wednesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Pvt. Chris Galley patches up a leg wound after a simulated insurgent attack during convoy training at Rodriguez Range on Wendesday.
Pvt. Chris Galley patches up a leg wound after a simulated insurgent attack during convoy training at Rodriguez Range on Wendesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Three months after standing up as a unit for the first time, soldiers from the 501st Sustainment Brigade are ducking simulated artillery bursts and unloading live fire at pop-up targets.

The brigade, a part of the 19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Camp Carroll near Daegu, isn’t full of tankers or infantrymen. In their regular jobs, the unit’s members are police and medics, cooks and maintenance soldiers.

That they are training in live-fire convoy operations designed to mimic today’s desert battlegrounds so soon after becoming a unit says volumes about the Army’s priorities today, soldiers said Wednesday.

“It also says a lot about the confidence they’re putting in us to complete this training,” said Staff Sgt. Tyrone Foster, 501st Special Troops Battalion. “That’s going to make us jell as a team.”

This brigade’s ability to jell is reflective of a much bigger picture: Units throughout the Army are transforming in a push to make each of them self-sustaining.

Getting everyone on the same page is a challenge, soldiers say, but exercises such as the convoy training force them to make it happen.

This month, about 600 soldiers from seven battalions in Col. Mark Gardner’s brigade have run the lanes at Rodriguez Range in convoys of Humvees, fuel tankers and light medium tactical vehicles.

They practice first with blank ammunition before moving on to live rounds. They must react quickly to roadside bombs and ambushes. For example, if they don’t hook up a tow bar to remove a disabled vehicle quickly enough, they may face more insurgent activity.

To make those quick decisions, soldiers from different specialties must emphasize communication.

“Before we came up here, we sat down as a team and came up with one language,” said Spc. Michael Ros, 501st Special Troops Battalion.

The result is that a potential weakness has become a strength, said Iraq convoy veteran 2nd Lt. Michael Pinter. For example, soldiers learn from the mechanics in their units how to make some field repairs, while the mechanics learn a few new techniques from the medics.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter what MOS (military occupation specialty) you are. You’re a soldier,” said Capt. Glenn Niles, integration cell officer-in-charge.

That reality, along with the nature of today’s insurgent warfare, means that a headquarters bookkeeper also gets trained on getting everyone out of a firefight and back to secure location.

“Just because you’re a private doesn’t mean you can’t make a decision,” said Capt. Elizabeth Curtis, 501st Special Troops Battalion headquarters company commander. “If other soldiers get hurt in a convoy, that’s who’s taking over.”

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