How to Arrive to the Middle of Nowhere

It is my desire not to write about things that apply specifically to rotations here at NTC but instead to focus on bigger problems that affect a unit no matter where they go.  While this problem is likely a bigger problem, I am going to write about how it specifically affects units as they move through NTC.  For units coming to Fort Irwin, their exercise actually starts weeks, even months before they actually step foot in the Mojave.  It starts with the planning, and then execution of moving equipment from wherever you happen to call home to here.  Equipment gets here two ways primarily rail load and line haul (I have seen units drive, but they were the CA National Guard so that is an exception).

Us as S6 people have very little to do with how equipment gets here, but it is of critical importance to us.  S6 personnel are often the very first people we see on the ground here prior to a rotation (along with S4) and for good reason.  It is important for us to be able to get our equipment in, setup, and fully tested prior to the rest of the unit getting here because once they are here, they expect to be able to talk and go to work.  At NTC, we have a requirement that each and every system that is going into the training area first complete an information assurance check.  This is done normally on the Monday and Tuesday prior to the actual start of the exercise (RSOI 1 and 2).  In order to pass this check, the system must have all current patches and antivirus definitions among other things.  In order for that to work, NETOPS needs to have a network setup and hopefully tested to push those patches.

Likewise, in this time before everyone descends on Fort Irwin, the S6 has the chance to pull out their FM, HF, and TACSAT systems and get them working and start installing them into vehicles.  The time prior to RSOI is critical to the S6 because the number of people on the ground is relatively small and there are not nearly as many competing requirements.  I often tell units that if you haven’t tested something before RSOI 1, you’re probably not going to be able to do it before you move into the box.

This brings me back to the topic of things getting here as planned as early as possible.  The S6 must be in bed with the S4 during the initial planning process when it comes to moving the equipment.  Trying to affect a change at the rail head is way too late.  A few thoughts to consider with the movement of signal equipment:

  • An S6 Soldier on the ground without equipment is just a Soldier with not a lot to do. Make sure their arrival is in line with the equipment getting here.
  • Map to Yermo from NTCThe rail head for NTC is approximately 35 miles away from the RUBA (rotational unit bivouac area) in the town of Yermo, CA. Any containers arriving by rail will have to be loaded on the back of a flatbed and moved to the RUBA and rolling stock will have to be driven.  I have seen a JNN literally sit 3+ days in Yermo waiting for someone to drive it to the base while the S6 pulled out his hair.
  • All line haul equipment is driven directly to Fort Irwin and unloaded just outside of the RUBA and moved directly to its parking spot.
  • Line hauls will almost always move faster than the train.
  • Line hauls are always under the eye of the driver while a train can be a couple of miles long and will often sit in a rail yard for days at a time and can be damaged.
  • Often we see each individual BN send their CPN in their individual sensitive items container along with weapons. The container arrives on time however the armor, who must be there to open the container, doesn’t arrive until the main body, leaving the CPN trapped for several days.
  • A CPN or JNN without an STT isn’t a lot of good.
  • A STT or JNN without a working generator isn’t a lot of good either
  • Your perfectly laid plan will get screwed up, so plan for it.

My recommendation….move all of your signal equipment (JNNs, CPNs, STTs, and maybe even HCLOS along with their generators) on line haul directly from your base to mine.  Work with the S4 to ensure that the timeline matches up with yours.  As far as CPNs go, DON’T PUT THEM IN THE SAME CONTAINER AS WEAPONS!  Ideally I would suggest you consolidate all of the CPNs and JNN access cases and stuff like that into a single container that can be opened as soon as it gets on the ground.  And last, but certainly not least, work closely with the S4 to continually track what is where.  Know what is in each container so that when it gets delayed you can figure out the impact.  Know where each container or vehicle is so you can update your plan as needed.

Tagged Track
Photo by: Frank Jackson

I will leave you with a few stories to help illustrate my points:

  • A recent unit that was arriving by boat had to have all of their equipment line hauled from the Port of Long Beach to Fort Irwin. When the S4 planned that part of the movement, he failed to realize that CA has a minor traffic problem and expected each truck to be able to complete two full runs each day instead of the 1.5 that they were really able to do.  This nearly doubled the time required to move all of their equipment (an additional 1.5 weeks) .
  • One unit was moving a bunch of their tracks by rail. The train crashed into a disabled truck carrying trail mix that was stopped on the tracks.  While to my knowledge there wasn’t signal stuff on that train and even if there was, it wasn’t damaged, it illustrates just what can happen when you move things across the country.
  • Another unit was moving their equipment by rail. While the train was stopped in a rail yard, someone jumped the fence and tagged a number of their tracks.  Again no real damage, but what could have happened.
  • And finally, a unit was line hauling a bunch of their signal equipment from home to Fort Irwin. What they failed to recognize (and in all honesty so did we until it was to late) was that California had enacted a new law that made it substantially harder for out of state trucks to enter the state.  They couldn’t find a company to actually move their equipment and it was delayed by about 5 days in arriving.

(You can see the full story here)

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