Nearly 300 military vehicles, such as armored and unarmored Humvees, fuel trucks and wreckers, lined the highways leading out of Central Texas this week as the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team conducted the largest convoy out of Fort Hood since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Soldiers in the Black Jack Brigade began their nearly 10-hour convoy, going no more than 50 mph, to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Vehicles began leaving in waves Monday morning and continued through the week.
About 3,200 brigade soldiers will spend about 30 days at the center training for their deployment to Afghanistan this summer. Of those, about half traveled to Louisiana on the convoy. While units typically get to training centers by either flying or busing, the convoy is a good opportunity to provide additional training for the soldiers and make sure they are acquainted with their vehicles and learn how to be better operators of them, said Chief Warrant Officer-3 Jose Vargas, the brigade’s senior warrant officer.
Once settled in, soldiers will train on a mission to support the withdrawal of forces and equipment from Afghanistan.
“When we get to JRTC, we’re going to get all kinds of training, from maintenance to patrols,” Vargas said. “It’s basically going to be a training model to follow the type of mission we will eventually get when deployed.”
Although Sgt. Joseph Seager, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, has been to Iraq four times, the brigade’s deployment this summer will mark his first tour to Afghanistan. Seager trained at JRTC before and looks forward to the hands-on exercises he’ll perform during training.
“It’s definitely good training for us as mechanics, especially with the road trip to JRTC,” he said. “(There’s) going to be a lot of ... moving pieces to make sure all our equipment is up and running. It will give us a good chance, if anything breaks down, to get in there and fix it.”
Since he’s been overseas numerous times, Seager said his main focus is to make sure other soldiers know what they’re doing and are ready to deploy.
Soldiers training at JRTC for the first time can expect “culture shock,” he said. “It’s a lot of long hours, but definitely good training.”
While the No. 1 reason the Black Jack Brigade is convoying more than 330 miles to the center is for training, Capt. Adam Bradford, the brigade’s deputy support operations officer, said the Army anticipates saving between $1 million and $1.5 million using this method.
“It’s also going to be a big money-saver for the Army as we face dollar constraints,” Vargas said.
Fort Hood coordinated with state agencies, including local law enforcement and the Department of Transportation in Texas and Louisiana, to get the convoy approved. Logistically, the unit also had to ensure the roadways and underpasses could support large military vehicles. Vargas said preparing for the convoy was a long process.
“We take care of the vehicles regardless, but in this case we’re going to be driving the vehicles and they’re going to need more attention,” he said, adding soldiers will stop along the route to perform preventive maintenance checks. “Obviously we’re concerned with safety and also we want to make sure they don’t break down. Our goal is to leave Fort Hood and get to JRTC with no problems.”
From lining up the trucks to making sure communications equipment is working properly, Bradford said the training event benefits soldiers.
“There are a lot of things that are applicable (at JRTC) and in this operation that apply when deployed,” he said. “Like blocking and tackling are the basics of football, the convoy operation has the basics of any Army operation that you want to do. You have to get your communications right. You have to get your organization right. All of (that) feeds into every Army operation that we would do.”