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Road to success: 7th Chem trains, certifies crew

Feb 16, 2010

By Angie Thorne, Fort Polk Guardian staff writer

FORT POLK, La. -- "East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'. We're gonna do what they say can't be done. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there..." This line from a song by Jerry Reed brings back memories of citizens' band radios and convoys with lines of massive trucks traveling the highways.

No matter what direction they're traveling, these metal caravans usually contain a large number of vehicles carrying cargo with miles to travel and deadlines to meet. For whatever reason, it seems as though you don't see as many commercial 18-wheeler convoys, but the military still uses this mode of transportation to get Soldiers and necessary equipment from one place to another.

Soldiers of 7th Chemical Company, 83rd Chemical Battalion recently did just that to complete certification training in Pine Bluff, Ark. The convoy lined up and left 7th Chem Co's motor pool in the cold, early hours of Jan. 25. Many may think that the convoy is only the means to an end -- getting to the training site -- but Capt. Rogelio Pineda, 7th Chem Co commander, believes the convoy is an essential part of the training. "The actual convoy to and from, tracking and logistics support and fuel are all part of the training. People might not think it is, but everywhere we go there's an element of movement and coordination involved," said Pineda.

1st Lt. Heather Morgan, executive officer, said this training was the first in a long time in which the company integrated so many moving pieces from other units and agencies. "It was an exercise in logistics, and I was thankful for the chance to learn while executing the movement to and from," said Morgan.

But the trip is only half the battle. Pineda said the training was imperative. "It's our way to tell the Army that we're ready to deploy and the Soldiers are trained to the task. The last certification we did was in August. That was a platoon certification, whereas this is focused on the crew level," said Pineda.

Training included crew certification and the evaluation of Soldiers on multiple tasks using the biological integrated detection system vehicles. Pineda said that over time, Soldiers had started to learn the Fort Polk area; so moving the training to an area that wasn't familiar created a challenge.

In today's world, "biological" usually refers to naturally occurring agents like anthrax, according to Lt. Justin Hill, 4th Platoon leader. Hill said that for the purpose of terrorism, these agents can be inexpensive and deadly. "We are the guys you don't want to have to call to do our job. With that being said, it's better to have the skills and not need them than to need them and not have them," said Hill.

The BIDS vehicles took center stage during the Pine Bluff Arsenal training. "The BIDS vehicles are for shelter and detection. They have a gas filtration unit and are sealed, so operators can take samples from the air. If they come back positive, Soldiers are protected inside the vehicle and have communication resources to call ahead and say they have a problem with an agent.

During training, units responded and performed -- not a true decontamination -- but similar to decontamination procedures," said Hill.

Pineda said once the biological agent is collected with the BIDS vehicle, it's processed so it can be placed in a test tube to presumptively identify the agent. He said in a real situation, the sample would have to be sent to a lab for verification.

To capture air samples at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Soldiers set up in a "critical node array pattern." "Soldiers were assigned designated areas because when the cloud comes in, it hits one, and then another vehicle. We are trying to get two hits to confirm the presence of an agent," said Pineda.

Soldiers set up overnight to monitor the BIDS system so they could be evaluated on their reactions. "They didn't know when we were going to hit them with the simulants or what we were spraying them with. We wanted to test them as they started dozing off because we wanted to try to catch them off guard," said Pineda.

Knowing their roles can build the trust needed to certify Soldiers as a crew and they must be performed with skill, accuracy and speed. According to Hill, there are usually four Soldiers to a crew. "During a set up, a Soldier on the outside should have the generator running so the system can be fired up. Once that's going, the Soldier on the inside can start powering up the system. Another Soldier is in charge of setting up the equipment on top of the BIDS vehicle. One

Soldier runs the system and sends all the reports and weather data he's collecting. Teamwork is the key that allows a flow that gets the crew to complete training in 45 minutes, but we actually shoot for less than that. You can tell when Soldiers haven't worked as a crew because it takes them longer to complete the same task," said Pineda.

Hill said that 7th Chem Co Soldiers take this training seriously. "When it comes to the actual BIDS system, every one of our Soldiers, officers, platoon sergeants, squad leaders, specialists, all the way down to privates are equally skilled on the system, and that's a unique ability," said Hill.

After training, the convoy retraced their steps back to Fort Polk and Morgan reflected on the success of the mission. "The training and crew certification was necessary because we have a long-standing reputation as the Army's most highly trained biological surveillance company and we always want to maintain that level of success," said Morgan. "Accomplishing the crew certification at Pine Bluff was a way to rehearse deploying and sustaining our crews and gaining valuable experience working with other units and agencies. In the end, I believe our Soldiers gained confidence in their skills, as well as a sense of teamwork."

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