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NEWS | July 25, 2017

Va. Guard transporters gain real world experience on cargo operations

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Three Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 1173rd Transportation Company, 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group spent their two weeks of annual training July 8-21, 2017, working at the Navy Operated Air Mobility Command Air Terminal in Norfolk, Virginia, where they gained real-world experience on cargo operations in a joint environment. Each year the “Patriot Partners” exercise brings reserve component personnel to the terminal to augment the existing staff and simulate running the operation in the second week.

“I am very proud of how these Soldiers stepped up to take this opportunity,” said Army Maj. Dennis Rohler, commander of the 529th. “These Soldiers are getting insights into other services and how things are done, and that is really huge because a lot of Army Soldiers don’t get the opportunity to work with their joint partners.”

Rohler knows from his own experience during federal active duty mobilizations overseas with the 529th that Guard Soldiers can be placed in austere environments where they could be faced with multiple challenges that require adaptability, innovation and initiative to accomplish the mission.

“As an 88M (Motor Transport Operator), you have be the most flexible Soldier in the sustainment community because you could be doing almost anything from one day to the next,” Rohler said. “This training opportunity really helps that.”

These Soldiers will now be able to say they have seen things done a different way, that they have worked with the Navy and worked with the Air Force, and that experience will help them in the careers and future missions, Rohler said.

AMC Air Terminal Norfolk is the Navy’s largest aerial and cargo port providing joint and interagency logistics and sustainment support to warfighters throughout the world. including four of the nine Department of Defense Combatant Commands, explained Navy Commander Ronald J. Kish, the officer in charge of the terminal. Each day personnel from the faciity keep vital supplies flowing to United States Africa Command, Central Command, European Command and Southern Command.

“Great to see the joint flavor here, and we are happy to have the National Guard with us,” Kish said. Patriot Partners provides great training opportunities, and he encouraged participants to learn as much as they could while they were taking part in the exercise. In particular, he stressed taking advantage from the wealth of experience from the civilian experts working in the terminal who are retired from the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy.

“These Army Guard Soldiers showed up here not really knowing what they were going to be trained on, took the training we gave them, excelled at the training we gave them, then they started teaching our Airmen what they had learned,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Gregory James O’Connor, ramp superintendent for Patriot Partners. “It has been a very positive experience working with Soldiers. As we like to say in the Air Force, they are high-speed, low drag.”

The Soldiers conducted a wide variety of tasks during their two weeks at the terminal, explained Spc. Michael Johnson, one of the three Soldiers from the 529th who took part in the training along with Spc. Danet and Spc. Petro. The Soldiers would have a role in every aspect of the supply process from inprocessing and inspecting individual items or parcels, making sure they went to the right bin where they would then be organized into pallets for shipment to their final destination. Once the pallets were built, they would then operate the machinery to store the pallets prior to shipment and even help load the airplanes that would take the supplies to their final destination.

The Soldiers also learned the computer system used to track all the shipping information, and Johnson shared that Petro received praise for her quick mastery of the system, processing thousands of items on her own without any errors.

In addition to the orientation to overall supply operations, the Soldiers also learned more specific areas like how bulk mail is organized for shipment to APO/FP addresses, tracking individuals packages based on their priority, learning how to operate different size fork lifts and even earning certifications on fork lift operations.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but they have been really great about teaching us,” Petro said. “It is really interesting to learn the whole process of how things to the troops and where they are and our part in that.”

Danet explained that the experience helped him better understand the wide variety of work experiences related to the military and it will help him as he plans ahead for both his civilian and military career.

Attending Soldiers were selected as part of the Commander’s Performance Incentive Program, which provides diverse training opportunities to Soldiers who outperform their peers on physical fitness test and firing range scores, as well as their mandatory online training requirements.

“The partnership with AMC Air Terminal Norfolk matured into some of the most dynamic training I’ve ever seen National Guard Soldiers get plugged into,” said Capt. Michael Drabowicz, the commander of the 1173rd. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to reward top-performers and are looking forward to other Soldiers striving for higher levels of personal readiness so they too can participate in unique incentive events such as these.”

Rohler said the 529th will explore finding the necessary resources so more Soldiers are able to take part in the training in the future.

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