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Fort Lee builds ordnance training complex north of Rt. 36

May 25, 2009


In a tucked away area off of River Road lies Fort Lee North Range, a component of the new U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools being built across from Route 36. It will be home to a new vehicle recovery training complex that boasts many features and capabilities supporting vital scenario-based training.

Currently under construction is a training ground for Vehicle Recovery Systems, consisting of a carefully designed roadway network and 13 mire pits, allowing plenty of variety and room for situational exercises.

The 200-plus acres are a significant jump in size compared to the 25-acre facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, which will be phased out eventually, bringing the operation down to Fort Lee.

"We've gone from a matchbox training area to something much larger, to adequately train for the future, whatever that may bring," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Shaver, ordnance technician and Recovery Division chief. Shaver was integral in designing the new vehicle recovery site.
With such an abundance of room, comparatively, the new grounds will maximize what students get from their training.

"The size and distance between the training areas," Shaver said, "gives us a lot of disparity between the training areas."

A large part of the training involves mire pits, which are basically huge holes dug in the ground filled with mud and water. The pits fill with water from a natural run-off from storm water drains.
These mire pits will be divided into two categories, track and wheeled vehicles. This aspect is something unique to the North Range site. No other vehicle training site (Fort Jackson, S.C.; Fort Knox, Ky.; APG) features both wheeled and tracked vehicles.

"We are the only site that does both, we're kind of unique in that way," said Shaver, who is on temporary duty from APG on a mission to design and oversee the North Range project. Shaver will remain at Fort Lee until November.

The roadway system around the mire pits, which will support different scenarios, was designed with the conditions Soldiers may face in mind. The roadways include sharp turns, straight aways and loops. The road even stretches across a man-made mountain, affectionately dubbed Mount Shaver, that will familiarize students with towing vehicles up and down steep gradients.

There is a 10-degree incline going up Mount Shaver and a seven-degree gradient going down. It was specifically designed and built for the purpose of giving the students a realistic feel to combat terrain. Familiarization is key.

"We want something that is challenging for Soldiers. That's what we get from this design," Shaver said.

Recovering a mired vehicle is by no means an easy task. There are three categories, or depths, of mire: up to the wheels, fender depth and what is called turret depth. The more entrenched the harder and more difficult it is to pull a vehicle out.

There will be four wheeled-vehicle mire pits, three tracked-vehicle mire pits, three tracked overturned pads and three wheeled-overturned pads. The seven pits and six overturned areas are subdivided into two categories, tracked and wheeled.

The different types of vehicles that the students will be recovering include M-60 and M-1 tanks, as well as high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles and personnel vehicles.

Another unique feature is the portions of road intentionally left unimproved. With gravel and dirt terrain, the recovery vehicles will have to travel across with a recovered vehicle in tow.
The recovery range will support 144 students at any one time with 16 instructors. On the ammunition supply side, it will support 192 enlisted students with 29 instructors.

Shaver, in practical manner, described what a typical training exercise might be like.

"If you have an accident out there, you call in a wrecker," he said. "Well, the same thing in the Army, if you have an accident or whatever breaks down, we call a recovery specialist out. And this is where we train those guys how to hook them up, how to right overturned vehicles, how to pull vehicles out of mud if they're stuck in something.

"What we wanted to do was come up with a scenario-based training site, because at APG we don't have enough land to do it," Shaver said.

Scenario-based training means that a group of students are given a recovery mission. Shaver described the approach as a "crawl, walk, run philosophy" as far as the training goes.

"We'll dispatch a group of vehicles from the main complex, and we'll say, 'Okay, go to these grid coordinates,'" he said." We'll tell them which route they have to take to get to it, [and] where the actual broken down vehicle is [located]. Once that mission is complete, they will radio back to headquarters - the general instruction building - then they'll say it's complete, then I'll give them another mission to a different mire pit, perhaps the deepest one we've got, and that will culminate the training event, the hardest one to get out."

Two to three students will occupy each vehicle. Usually 12 students are in a class, and during a scenario-based exercise, they will go out in a convoy, four vehicles at one time to go to each scenario. Two are primarily used during a mission for the actual recovery mission itself, and then the two other vehicles are there to set up a security perimeter around the wreckers.

"You may be called to go in under fire, and that's one of the things we wanted to do as far as scenario-based training," Shaver said. "That's what we'll be simulating. A tank weighs seventy-two tons, so you've got to have a big piece of equipment to pick it up," he continued. "We'll use an M88 to turn it over, more than likely we'll use two, and we'll have one on each side, one to pick it up and one to pull it over. That's usually the way we do it."

Stuck and overturned vehicles have become an increasing concern military-wide. Shaver would like to see all ordnance students go through the training.

"We're trying to get as many maintenance personnel at least familiar with recovery," he said. "It's been out there, but the Army is seeing that there's a need for more qualified people to be out there, because of what we're seeing now."

The designers basically had a flat plain to work with, which allowed them to easily realize their plans and create something like a tactical playground.

"We really didn't have any unique obstacles to this area," said Fritz Brandt, BRAC construction project manager. "One of the things we had to design into it is access control, because it's a remote location and because it's more than just a training area. Usually in a training area, there's nothing there to protect so you don't do access control. But there will be a permanent staff out there, there are facilities out there, so we had to design an access control."

The roadways were built to familiarize the student in driving an M88A2 "Hercules."

"The road network isn't just for accessing the sites [mire pits], but is actually a training aid also," Brandt said.

Students on the site will go through an intense five and a half week course. There are actually two courses for the vehicle recovery combined into one. Half is devoted to training with wheeled vehicle wreckers, such as the HEMMT. That portion runs for two weeks and two days. The other half is devoted to training with tracked vehicle wreckers, such as the M88A2 "Hercules" that runs for three weeks and two days.

Students go straight through the five and a half weeks, focusing primarily on vehicle recovery.

The students won't actually leave certified or fully licensed, so to speak, in driving an M88, but will have had experience getting used to it, getting in the seat, getting on the road, feeling the difference between how a vehicle goes on paved [roads], how it goes on dirt. Again, familiarizing students is a goal in the training.

There are two outdoor training areas and supporting buildings, one is the vehicle recovery training complex, the other part is a training ammunition supply point.

The general instruction facility classrooms are divided into vehicle recovery classrooms as well as training ammunitions supply point.

The three main buildings on North Range will be a general instruction facility, the tactical equipment maintenance facility where students will perform maintenance, and a vehicle maintenance instructional facility where students will learn maintenance.

The ammunition supply point side of the range is supporting training coming from Redstone, Ala.

The arrival of those two groups is phased. Aberdeen is going to be first to come out here, but the designers figured, even though the ASP was coming second and would give them more time to get the ASP training up and running, according to Brandt.

"When we planned this, the vision was this is a fifty-year facility, so as best we can, let's not build this for yesterday's requirements, let's build it for tomorrow's requirements," Brandt said.
"Of the ones [vehicle recovery training] out there, this is probably going to end up being the higher end, because we started with a blank slate," he said.

The instructional building is 32,000 square feet, the two maintenance buildings, the constructional maintenance and the true maintenance, are both approximately 16,000 square feet. And there will be a 4,000 square foot storage building out there as well.

The North Range construction project is to be complete next spring, but will not be in use until 2011.

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