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Cold Steel expands Army Reserve combat lethality

By Staff Sgt. Debralee Best | 84th Training Command | April 12, 2018

FORT KNOX, Ky. — Operation Cold Steel has focused on ground and mounted gunnery qualifications with crew-served weapons, but recently added another aspect to expand the training and improve lethality.

Thirteen U.S. Army Reserve teams conducted qualification for sections of convoy protection platforms, also known as Gate III, from March 19-31 at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The Soldiers in these sections completed mounted qualification as part of Cold Steel at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, then traveled to Fort Knox to participate in Combat Support Training Exercise 78-18-03. After completing extensive battle drills and situational training lanes, they remained at Fort Knox, but transitioned back to Cold Steel to complete section live-fire qualifications.

The Soldiers qualified in teams of three at Fort McCoy, then built on their section teamwork at CSTX to help prepare them to work as a convoy team.

“They had to finish (at Fort McCoy) as a team, so when they come here that’s something they can apply,” said Maj. Frederick Meeks, exercise plans officer, Bridge Combat Support Training Exercise 78-18-03. “When I was doing the (reception, staging, onward movement, and integration) briefs, that’s something I was preaching to the individuals who were coming into CSTX. I said, ‘listen, going through lethal warrior training is going to have to be as a unit, you have to be together as a unit.’ For them going through Gate IV at McCoy, they had to go through as a unit. I think that’s where they benefit: uniformity.”

While CSTX was beneficial to solidifying the entire escort section, the three-person crews already built their teamwork while performing mounted gunnery at Fort McCoy.

“That’s the building block for gunnery. So, you learn as a crew, that’s kind of their crawl phase. They get in there, it’s three individuals inside of a crew. They understand crew commands, crew duties, they put it all together, they shoot from the defense, they shoot from the offense, they shoot at stationary targets, they shoot at moving targets and so that sets them up,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Terstegen, master gunner, First Army. “When they come (to Fort Knox), now they’re shooting as an element, a minimum of two vehicles up to five vehicles in a section that is constantly moving, engaging targets. It’s that stepping stone to get to where they’re at.”

To become familiar with the process of convoy escorts, the sections begin their training by receiving an operations order on the first day and spend their time planning and rehearsing for their upcoming “mission.”

The following day they begin training with two simulators: Virtual Battlespace 3, a laptop-based system, and a LaserShot Warrior Skills Trainer, a mounted-immersed trainer.

“They’re actually going through the functions of manipulating weapon systems, turning turrets, being in the actual shell of a Humvee, driving, everyone in their respective positions. They have 360 degree screens around them so they can visually see targets and they’re learning weapon orientation and crew duties there as a section,” said Terstegen. “Before, you had your crew duties and you were always looking forward as an individual crew, now as a section, you’ve got to be cognizant of the vehicle in front of you so you’re adjusting off them.”

The next three days, the section physically drives the lane, first with no ammunition.

“At some point they’ll hit a roadblock, they’ll have an ambush, there will be tanks that present themselves, they’ll have a call-for-fire mission,” said Terstegen. “Once the call-for-fire mission is done, they’ll get a change to mission and they come home. Now they’re on their return route down their main (major supply route), they’re coming back through. They have a couple more engagements: they have a sniper engagement, they take a casualty and now they’re treating a casualty while on the move, they just came out of an engagement area so you’ve added stressors, but at this point there is still no live-fire, there is still no ammunition being fired.”

The following day, the Soldiers run the same route, but this time with blank ammunition.

“Now you’ve added the stressor of hearing the machine guns going off while doing all the other reportings and possibly fighting through malfunctions of the weapons that you didn’t have the day before,” said Terstegen.

The final day of training, qualification day, the Soldiers finally fire live ammunition.

“So you’re trying to actually knock the targets down,” said Terstegen. “You’ve been engaging them, but you don’t really know where you’re hitting so now you’re engaging them, watching where your rounds are impacting so as a vehicle commander, you’re adjusting fires … you’re still maneuvering your element, you’re still calling your reports in and so slowly, every day you’re adding another stress level to that section leader to make them more lethal, more trained, more proficient at their craft.”

The goal of this training is to eliminate the need for a separate element to protect a logistics convoy.

“This training is helping sustainers defend themselves,” said Sgt. 1st Class Larry McCracken, vehicle crew evaluator and fire commands master gunner, 3-340th Brigade Engineer Battalion.

“The sustainment units are now not going to have an escort, they’re going to have to defend themselves and they understand that,” added Terstegen.

“Just the energy they have, it was pretty remarkable,” said 1st Sgt. John C. Jones, day convoy range noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Yano Range, Task Force Triad. “They were ready to go down and they were excited to put rounds downrange at those targets, I can assure you, very excited.”

Not only do these Reserve Soldiers know where the future of convoy escort is headed, but these teams have proven they are motivated and capable to carry it out, Jones added.

“Everything is a perishable skill so unless you use it, you kind of get rusty on it,” he said. “These units demonstrated good communications over the radio, they demonstrated good internal communications, and happy to say, they were able to meet their critical task.”

“Everything is working out because we’re all coming together as a team,” added Meeks. “Operation Cold Steel, Task Force Bullion and CSTX as well as all the (Observer/Coach Trainers) that are over those units are coming together as a team and making sure they hit the right objectives in order for them to go through Gate III.”