86th Training Division safety team ensures compliance, welfare during Combat Support Training Exercise

By 1st Lt. Chantel Baul | 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | July 26, 2019

Fort McCoy, WI. —

Hundreds of U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from units around the country have come here to participate in the Combat Support Training Exercise (CSTX) 86-19-03 taking place from July 13 to Aug. 2. Conducted by the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, the CSTX features large-scale tactical training exercises designed to replicate real-world missions. Participating Soldiers train on their unit-specific mission essential tasks as well as Army Warrior tasks and battle drills, which are fundamental combat skills that all Soldiers must be proficient in to fight and win on the battlefield. 

About 20 units are participating in this year’s CSTX, totaling approximately 1,600 Soldiers. With any training exercise, there’s always the potential that something will go wrong, and that potential grows for an exercise of this size. In order to thwart “Murphy’s Law” and ensure that training goes smoothly, the 86th Training Division safety team is on the ground conducting safety inspections throughout. 

“The safety mission is to monitor, supervise, perform on-the-spot corrections and to keep our Soldiers as safe as possible,” said Col. Richard Toellner, the safety team’s officer in charge (OIC). Toellner leads a team of roughly 10 ‘safeties’ – the number fluctuates day to day – who patrol the various tactical assembly areas (TAAs) where units are training to identify and address hazards. The safeties check for a lot of different things when patrolling the TAAs. 

To start, they ensure that all Soldiers are wearing the proper personal protective equipment, which includes gloves, helmet, eye protection, and body armor or vest. As the safeties traverse the TAA, they look at the military vehicles to ensure that moving vehicles are being guided by a ground guide and that parked vehicles have wheel chocks, which prevent a parked vehicle from rolling. They also ensure that parked vehicles, especially those on a downward slope, aren’t facing any tents. For the tents, the safeties check the ropes and stakes to ensure that tents are secure and won’t collapse if a storm lands. They also confirm that every tent has either a fire extinguisher or a fire guard who ensures that the tent doesn’t catch fire overnight. 

The safeties make sure that generators are grounded with a copper rod and that water buffalos are marked with the proper inspection documents. Among other things, they also check for cleanliness and garbage: “There’s a lot of wildlife here in Fort McCoy, so we don’t give the wildlife any reason to come on to the TAAs,” Toellner explained.
Once the safeties identify hazards, they find the unit OIC or the TAA’s additional duty safety officer to make recommendations. “When you’re working safety, you can’t be bashful. You’ve got to go straight to the top and let them know what’s wrong,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Anderson, one of the safeties on the 86th Training Division team. If the hazard can’t be addressed on the spot, the safeties will revisit the TAA the following day to confirm that the issue has been resolved. 

The safety team isn’t just concerned about what happens on the TAAs; they pay close attention to what happens off of them too. “Outside of the TAAs, when (the units) are moving, we observe them for speed with the assistance of the Fort McCoy Police,” said Toellner. The safeties also coordinate with the installation police to ensure that convoys crossing busy highways get through without incident. 

The safeties assist units in the event of a vehicle breakdown as well. When one of the 702nd Engineering Company’s light medium tactical vehicles broke down during the CSTX, Master Sgt. William Hans and Anderson were on the scene to guide traffic and provide assistance while two of the 702nd Soldiers prepared the LMTV for towing. 

Though the safeties don’t try to impede training, they do their best to make their presence known. “The more that safety armband gets out to the field, the more visibility we have. Safety is contagious. So, if someone gets spoken to about a wheel chock or if someone gets stopped for speeding, that spreads, and that’s good,” Toellner said. 

At the end of the day, soldier welfare is at the center of the safety team’s mission. Toellner added, “It’s all about the Soldier getting home safe and healthy, and that’s it. (We’re) an Army of one. We just want to make sure that (every) Soldier gets good training and comes home happy and safe.” With their roving patrols and checklists in hand, the 86th Training Division safety team is committed to making that happen.