Reserve unit, prepping for Afghanistan deployment, hones skills at Camp Crowder

By DEBBY WOODIN | The Joplin Globe, Mo. | Published: July 24, 2019

NEOSHO, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — An Army camp built for World War II this week is serving as the training grounds for a U.S. Army Reserve unit that also has roots in that war.

Soldiers with the 329th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve are preparing for deployment in the fall to Afghanistan. They are encamped for 10 days at Camp Crowder as they update their personal preparedness as well as their service skills.

Capt. Alex Borgardts of Kansas City, who has a career as a financial planner in civilian life, said the unit will provide logistics support for the Army during its deployment.

"Specifically, we manage food, water, fuel, gear and supplies, ammunition and building materials" for active Army, National Guard, Air Force and Navy personnel, Borgardts said. "Essentially we will be providing life support for a small city of U.S. and NATO personnel."

But they receive the same training as active military personnel to serve in that role or in active duty if they would be called up.

After arriving last week at Crowder, the reservists started the stay by having dental and medical checkups and updating their personnel records to be personally prepared for service overseas.

Since then, they have participated in training drills to keep them militarily prepared.

Earlier this week, the reservists practiced hitting targets with hand grenades, Borgardts said.

On Tuesday, training focused on detecting and neutralizing improvised explosive devices, both those worn by the enemy and mines installed in the ground and in buildings.

Scenarios were played out both on the road and in "villages" constructed of shipping containers. Role-players pose as the enemy as the reservists search them for explosives and other dangers. They are trained to look for things that appear out of place as they walk across a field or a base that could hide a land mine or conceal a pressure plate, which detonates an explosive planted in the ground or the mine when it is stepped on.

As they walk, the soldiers look for a piece of trash or a tuft of a grass that could serve as cover for those explosives, explained the unit commander, Lt. Col. Doug Wagner, from Lincoln, Nebraska.

The citizen soldiers practiced searching villages and buildings, training on the information given via radio to report the find of an unexploded IED, which includes identifying what it is and where it is, Borgardts said.

In Afghanistan, they likely won't be walking roads or raiding villages, but as they move about their base, the training will help them keep a sense of awareness, Wagner said. "They're looking for what's going on in their areas," he said.

During the search, they set off a (fake) explosive they did not see.

"This is set to be very intense and see how they react, so if it really happens, this is not the first time they have seen it happen," Wagner said.

Though the battalion is based in Parsons, Kansas, members such as Wagner are assigned to it from many other states, including Florida, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, California and Washington. A number of reservists are from Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.

Specialist Tyler Viles, of Joplin, a software developer who has been in the reserve for five years, said, "We're learning all kinds of skills out there. Not only are we learning how to work as a team, but we are learning all kinds of skills such as combat lifesaving."

In joining the reserves, "the initial reason was because I wanted to continue going to school and work on a degree in computer science," Viles said. "But I still wanted to serve (in the military) in some capacity."

His service has taught him useful skills such as how to communicate with different people, and how to listen to instructions and be able to follow through successfully.

To get ready to deploy, he is talking to family, friends and his employer "to make sure they are mentally ready for that. And there is a lot of internal stuff to make sure you are mentally and physically ready, but there's a lot of stuff that your family is worried about. They are constantly asking me, 'What are you going to be doing?' and 'How long are you going to be gone?' so there are a lot of things for them to understand about what you going into."

Adam Harrison, who works as a police officer at Frontenac, Kansas, has been in the Reserve for 13 years. He has served once before in Afghanistan and says the training exercises are helpful. "Any time you are going into that type of situation it's always good as a refresher to go back to those techniques and tactics and practice those," he said.

Jessica Park, of Pittsburg, Kansas, has participated in the reserves for more than 14 years. In her civilian job, she provides supplies and services to the military.

These training exercises, she said, "are great team building, especially prior to deployment," to heighten awareness, detection and response in the field. "It's like if you don't use it, you'll lose it," she said of those skills.

©2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
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