Missouri Army Guard hits the road with Operation Patriot Bandoleer, hauls ammunition more than 2,000 miles
By Army Sgt. Mariah Best
Missouri Army National Guard
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DEXTER, Mo. -- With more than 130 Soldiers, 55 trucks and trailers and 5.5 million pounds of ammunition to move, the Missouri Army National Guard's 1221st Transportation Company recently spent two weeks driving across the country in support of Operation Patriot Bandoleer, a multi-unit, multi-force exercise that focuses on movement and distribution management of ammunition.
The 1221st Trans. Co., along with seven other transportation units, moved more than 794 containers to Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev., and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Okla.
|Ammunition is loaded aboard a truck and trailer of the 122st Transportation Company at Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, N.C., as part of Operation Patriot Bandoleer.|
(Photo by Sgt. Mariah Best)
The mission was an important one, said Army Col. Ed Gargas, commander of the Missouri Army Guard's 70th Troop Command.
"This mission allows the National Guard and active components to partner with Army Sustainment Command and provide a very much needed real-world mission while rounding out the total force package between the active component and the National Guard." he said.
The unit was in charge of moving 110 containers nearly 3,000 miles from North Carolina to Nevada and were the first to make the journey this year, paving the way for the seven other units that followed.
Sgt. 1st Class Patricia McShan, readiness noncommissioned officer for the company, had her hand in a majority of the logistical planning for the mission.
"There is quite a bit of preparing that we have to do," McShan said. "What has caused me the most stress is making sure my Soldiers are taken care of while making sure that the mission is a success."
Capt. Jonathan Dudley, commander of the unit, said planning for the mission began in October 2015, just as that year's Patriot Bandoleer mission was wrapping up. Because of their familiarity with the process, Dudley said his unit lead the way this year.
"We were chosen to go first because of our familiarity with the entire planning process since we were involved early on with the routes and the recon," said Dudley, adding that the distances traveled upped the complexity of the mission.
"It's a complex mission going that many miles across the United States and things are never perfect," he said. "When you increase the distance, it gets harder and harder."
That complexity is worth it, said McShan.
"All the stress is worth it in the end because I have well-trained Soldiers at the end of the mission," she said. "For all of our Soldiers, especially our newer Soldiers, this is great training."
McShan said the mission itself gets at the heart of what her Soldiers do.
"The product that we are transporting is for Soldiers to meet their missions," McShan said. "That's what we do — we haul."
Sgt. Katie Alsup, a truck driver and squad leader with the unit, said she felt lucky to be a part of the mission.
"There are a lot of transportation companies who go spend two weeks at a field training exercise or spend two weeks at home station," said Alsup. "Getting to actually do a haul mission on your annual training is pretty exciting. To be trusted with such an important mission is kind of awesome."
Soldiers often took personal time to plan routes, fuel stops and print off maps in an effort to make the mission run as seamlessly as possible, said Staff Sgt. Jason Gillespie, a truck driver and squad leader with the unit.
"During my two week vacation I would work on routes at my house and print off maps to try and make things a little easier," Gillespie said. "I came in two days prior to annual training to get the route clarified with other Soldiers from different detachments to try and complete the mission and make it as easy as possible."
Gillespie filled the role of route planner and convoy commander for his platoon and had the challenge of integrating and training new Soldiers. With only two seats in each of the trucks, Gillespie partnered his newer Soldiers with experienced drivers.
Although the days were "high paced, long days" according to Gillespie, that didn't stop any Soldier from working hard.
"This is a great unit," he said. It's one of the best ones I know of across the U.S. You give us a mission, we will complete it."
Part of that comes from friendly competitiveness between unit members.
"The unit has our own competitiveness against each other, but we band together to complete the mission no matter what," said Gillespie. "I take great pride in it."
|Soldiers with the 1221st Transportation Company make their way toward Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev., while hauling ammunition as part of Opertaion Patriot Bandoleer.|
(Photo by Sgt. Mariah Best)
For Staff Sgt. Ronald Johnson, truck driver and squad leader with the unit, the big emphasis was safety for his troops.
"We did everything we could do to ensure safety," he said, adding constant communication was key. "We tried to convey the wartime experience to non-deployed and newer Soldiers with this real-time, real-world mission."
Johnson said the unit's overall efforts from last year's mission got them noticed to take the lead this year.
"Really working hard last year put us heads-up to blaze the trail for these other units," Johnson said.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Abraham Faulkner, the maintenance supervisor for the unit, said the maintenance Soldiers were responsible for ensuring all equipment stayed fully mission capable for the duration of the mission and were always motivated.
"For the most part the morale stayed pretty high," said Faulkner. "The maintenance guys know what their mission is and they know what their job is, so even though there were some days that started and ended really well, the days were pretty long."
Many of the Soldiers commented on the maintenance team's hard work and motivation to help each other.
"I have to give major props to maintenance for keeping us on the road," Alsup said. "We couldn't have pulled it off without them working so hard fixing our trucks and making all those repairs."
The mission went smoothly thanks to the leadership at all levels of the unit, said Master Sgt. Robert Koelling, acting first sergeant for the unit.
"What I thought would be issues weren't really issues because of the squad leaders and the platoon sergeants having great command and control of their element," Koelling said. "This unit has great leadership and mentorship at the squad, platoon and command level as well. The young Soldiers got to go with the more experienced Soldiers and in return it was just a ton of experience for them."
One thing evident to many was the pride and the cohesion the unit members constantly maintained, said McShan, who served as a military police officer before transitioning over to the 1221st Trans. Co.
"The cohesion here is like none I've ever seen at any other unit," she said. "We're like family here. A lot of us are married and have children and they understand, they know we are going to be taken care of whether we're on deployment or just on a mission."
Morale stayed high through the duration of the mission as well, said Johnson.
"I was really impressed at the level of morale despite the long days, the lack of sleep, and incredibly the long hours of driving," Johnson said. "These young troops really seem like they are going to be a good next generation of Soldiers. We are really fortunate to have such a good group of young people coming up through the ranks."