FORT PICKETT, Va. –
If you were to ask any of the more than 60 personnel assigned to Range Operations at Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, Virginia, what their number one priority is, you would undoubtedly hear the same thing from all of them: safety.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Canada, senior range safety noncommissioned officer, explained that the mission of Range Operations is “the safe execution of training events across all of our ranges and maneuver areas.”
MTC, which sits on approximately 41,000 acres just outside of Blackstone, Virginia, features a combination of open and wooded terrain maneuver areas and 21 ranges capable of supporting almost any weapons system in the U. S. Army inventory, with barracks to support more than 5,000 personnel, as well as an Army airfield operation.
“MTC is a level two garrison training center,” said Col. James Shaver, MTC garrison commander. “We train primarily reserve component: Army National Guard and Army Reserve.”
In addition to providing training facilities for reserve component units and personnel from the Army, MTC regularly hosts units from the active and reserve components of other services, such as the Marines, Navy, and Air Force, as well as non-Department of Defense federal, state, and local government agencies and entities.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to train other DOD services and non-DOD agencies,” said Shaver. “Through a tiered approach with a priority of scheduling, we can support any agency who has a training mission that falls somewhere within the left and right limits of what we can provide. Live fire and maneuver is our main avenue.”
“Safety is paramount,” said Maj. Jason Simulcik, the MTC Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander. “I am very proud of our safety record.”
It takes a considerable amount of work to ensure all of the various training events for the vast array of units and agencies that train on MTC are conducted in a safe manner and that work is the mission of Range Operations.
“We are here to facilitate training,” said Canada. “Everything from planning, scheduling, to the execution of ranges and guidance on how best to conduct the training on the maneuver lanes or ranges. We also execute the safe operation of the Firing Desk.”
The Firing Desk is the heart of Range Operations and all training that occurs at MTC. Using the Range Facility Management Support System, a standardized, integrated system designed to efficiently schedule and manage firing ranges and training areas, Firing Desk personnel can use RFMSS to easily see where units and personnel are located within the maneuver areas, which ranges are currently firing, as well as a host of other information.
“The Firing Desk is the central hub for range safety,” said Canada. “At the firing desk, we’re coordinating when units are going hot, what they are going hot with, validating surface danger zones, ensuring that the RSOs and OICs are qualified to be running a particular range, and using the correct weapons and ammunition for a particular range.”
With multiple ranges and training areas all being used simultaneously, the Firing Desk can become a hectic and sometimes stressful place. The desk has multiple phone lines, radios, and a walk-up window; it can easily become overwhelming for the untrained. However, the personnel running it are well trained and adept at handling any situation.
“There can be a hundred different things happening at one time,” said 1st Lt. Zachary Lawrie, range officer, as he was training a new member of the Range Operations team. “You have to be able to quickly prioritize what's happening, what needs your attention first, and that’s rarely the person standing here right in front of you,” said Lawrie.
In addition to running the Firing Desk, Range Operations personnel are also responsible for going out to the various ranges and maneuver areas to conduct inspections and checks to ensure training is being conducted safely and in accordance with MTC guidelines. At least once per day, every live fire range is inspected by a member of the Range Operations team. They use a strict checklist and are empowered to temporarily shut down a range if any deficiencies are found.
“Our job is to ensure the safety of all personnel conducting training,” said Staff Sgt. William Vazquez, a range safety inspector. “We check to make sure they have proper equipment, their medical vehicle and personnel are prepared in the event of an emergency and, most importantly, that rounds are going where they are supposed to.”
These inspections are focused on ensuring the safe execution of training. Range safety inspectors look for things such as personnel keeping weapons pointed in a safe direction, the proper use of personal protective equipment such as hearing protection, as well as ensuring that range safety officers and the range’s officer-in-charge are operating the range in a safe manner.
“Safety is priority one here,” said Spc. Elizabeth Lopez, a range safety inspector.
Lopez, who recently joined Range Operations and was on her first day with the team, was already able to clearly articulate the mission of Range Operations.
“Our job is to ensure Soldiers and others training here conduct their training in the safest way possible,” said Lopez.