FORT PICKETT, Va. — With regular Virginia National Guard field training on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, some opportunistic improvements are in the works at Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, which will benefit units once training resumes.
While units drill remotely, the Fort Pickett Range Operations staff has been hard at work on the installation’s ranges, getting them ready for an eventual influx of training, including what’s expected to be a busy summer annual training season.
“The range operations guys are loving life right now,” said Col. Paul Gravely, garrison commander of MTC Fort Pickett. “They’re able to get maintenance and surveying and things like that done like they’ve never been able to get done before, because now they’re able to access downrange areas.”
With the unprecedented access, the MTC staff has been able to tackle a wide range of projects, including additional prescribed burning, maintenance on firebreaks and bridge work performed by the Directorate of Public Works.
“They’ve done UXO (unexploded ordnance) walks, they’ve put in firing points, and they’re looking at vegetation removal,” said Gravely.
Todd Phillips, the senior range specialist for MTC Fort Pickett, said live-fire range cleanup projects are taking top priority.
“In particular we’ve been doing a lot of maintenance and trying to get the ranges back up to standards, which normally this time of year we wouldn’t be able to do that because we’d have training going on,” said Phillips. “We’re able to get down range and cut back some vegetation that has affected line of sight on the targets.”
Range maintenance projects typically take place over the winter, but that timing includes limitations to what they can accomplish.
“Normally we’d do this type of thing in December up to the first of January, and sometimes the weather just doesn’t allow us to get a lot done in that period of time,” said Phillips.
One of the big projects is an overhaul of Range 13, adjacent to the Multi-Purpose Range Complex, or Range 15. The MPRC is one of the most popular ranges at Fort Pickett, and likely won’t have the capacity to handle every unit wanting to use it during their annual training.
Phillips said the goal is to get work completed before annual training season begins, hopefully in June, depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once field training begins again, Phillips said Pickett is going to be very busy.
“All the training that should be going on now is getting kicked down the road, and we’ll be slammed once we do get up and running,” said Phillips. “We’re going to have all this extra training going on, and that’s where Range 13 comes in, to take some of the burden off of the MPRC. We’ve been working Range 13 and have gotten it almost in shape and ready to start training hopefully in June.”
Phillips said his range operations crews have been able to complete these projects while still following prescribed social distancing and safety guidelines.
“Everyone that would normally be working is working. For the most part, the whole shut down hasn’t had any effect on us – we’ve been able to get a lot of stuff done.”
In addition to the range projects, Phillips said they’ve been able to clean up the Fort Pickett Combined Arms Collective Training Facility (CACTF), and DPW has been able to complete road network maintenance projects.