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NEWS | April 7, 2017

Ammo handlers keep rounds firing at Cold Steel

By Staff Sgt. Debralee Best 84th Training Command

Operation Cold Steel will train and certify approximately 1,800 Soldiers by the end of April 2017 on crew-served weapons platform qualification at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The exercise is providing everything the Soldiers need to qualify, from cold weather gear, to vehicles and weapons. Including one of the most important components: ammunition.

This massive task is completed by an ammo handlers staff of less than 20 personnel.

“Our mission is to supply all the ammunition for Operation Cold Steel, receive it from the (Ammunition Supply Point) at Fort McCoy, then process it, store it and then distribute it to the ranges as needed,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Arne, ammunition noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

So far, the ammunition Soldier who are running an Ammunition Transfer Handling Point, have pulled, stored and processed more than 2 million rounds of .50 caliber machine gun, M240B machine gun and MK-19 automatic grenade launcher live and blank ammunition.

According to Arne, the ATHP was a must for this exercise because Fort McCoy is not set up to hold this volume of ammunition for an extended period of time, in this case, the seven weeks of the exercise.

In addition to providing a location to store and process the ammunition, the ATHP also distributes the ammunition when it’s needed.

“It gives us the ability to respond at a moments notice,” said Arne. “When we first got set up here and got the equipment and saw what I had that’s when I told the ranges, by the time you call in your requirement it’s a maximum four-hour turn-around. I don’t think we’ve gone more than an hour and a half since then. If you had all this over at the ASP, then: are the civilians there? Is it even open? Is there another unit drawing so I can’t get into the bunker where this ammo is at? To have it here, it’s so conducive for the operation because when the call comes in that a range needs three more pallets of .50 cal, too easy. I don’t know of any other place where you could get 25,000 rounds in an hour and a half. From, I’m out of bullets to it’s at my door. This is really the best scenario, the best way to do the ammo operations for something like this.”

Setting up an ATHP has not only been a benefit to Operation Cold Steel, but also to the Soldiers running the ammunition operations.

“The battlefield is going to change to where the ammo company is responsible to set the ASPs up, the ATHPs, the (Ammunition Holding Areas) and actually do what we’re doing here,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Dunn, day shift ammunition noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “So, these Soldiers, can say, ‘I pushed 3 million rounds of ammo, stateside in an exercise that would normally take place in a theater of war.’ They’re not going to see this anywhere else. The training cycles they have now, they don’t get to touch live ammo unless they’re going to the range to qualify.”

The Soldiers also recognize it’s benefit and the tenacity this operation has contributed.

“This will 100 percent prep us for a deployment. Now if I were to go on a deployment I would be way more confident in my ability than I would have been before because I’ve had real work experience instead of just the very little we get to do,” said Spc. Adriana Nunez, ammunition handler. “It’s the volume and it’s the day-to-day stuff consistently that has made us more experienced.”

The staff have not been the only ones to have value added. Twice students from the ammunition handlers schoolhouse have been able to visit and participate in the ATHP operations “for real-world operational experience,” said Arne.

The ammunition staff are all volunteers who have come together for this mission.

“Everybody is working well together especially since we’ve got people coming from as far as the west coast and as far over as Georgia, then everything north and south and in-between,” said Arne. “We’re coast to coast. To have that big of a demographic to come together and actually be able to work and operate is nice. They all understand we’re here to do a job and they try to get along as best they can.”

“Despite our differences and our different backgrounds, we’ve been able to dive right in and put all of that aside which has been really, really cool,” added Nunez. “We’ve all been able to form together to make this super team of ammo handlers. We’ve really meshed very well.”

Nunez said she is taking a lot away from this experience and wants other Soldiers to do the same.

“More Soldiers should take advantage of opportunities like this because they are few and far between other than deployments,” said Nunez. “Other Soldiers should jump on these type of operations in order to learn their (military occupational specialty) better and learn how to operate with more Soldiers outside of their unit.”