Passing through more than 15 states, clocking in over 500,000 miles and transporting almost six million pounds of ammunition were all tasks Michigan National Guard (MING) Soldiers recently supported through their participation in Operation Patriot Press.
The exercise, completed in May of this year, is an Army Materiel Command initiative that links National Guard units to real-world missions for annual training. Michigan National Guard Soldiers worked on a wide variety of operational missions across the full spectrum of transportation operations, which included training with other states.
“This exercise taught our Soldiers that they are ultimately responsible for the loads they are hauling,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Downey. “It gave them the opportunity to utilize their military occupation specialty and gave our non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and leaders the opportunity to train and be more prepared in the event the Guard is activated to assist in Federal Emergency Management Agency matters.”
The 246th Transportation Battalion, based in Jackson, oversaw the movement of two of their transportation companies. Downey is the training NCO with the 1461st Transportation Company, also based in Jackson. He managed the ancillary training the Soldiers had to accomplish in order to go on the mission, such as taking courses on ammunition transportation, handling, and allocation.
“This is an excellent opportunity for getting our Soldiers the training we need to operate in a deployed environment because this is the type of mission we would be performing if we were overseas,” said U.S. Army Capt. Luke Rykse, project officer for Operation Patriot Press.
Rykse is assigned to the 246th Transportation Battalion and has been planning MING participation in Operation Patriot Press for the last several months. He has had consistent communications with the South Dakota National Guard who also had drivers on the road conducting their own missions. Ryske coordinated with ammo depots in the three states and arranged where the units would be staying while they were on the road.
The cross-country exercise required Soldiers to learn how to maneuver vehicles with different weights of payload and understand how that can affect operations.
“It taught Soldiers that pulling a fully loaded trailer is completely different than when pulling an empty one,” said Downey. “Most importantly, this exercise gave our Soldiers the opportunity to do something that they have never done: assisting other states or mission locations in receiving their goods by military provided services instead of by commercial haul.”
The ability to perform their military duties on such a large scale is a real opportunity for the Soldiers who have been working solely online for the last few months due to COVID-19.
“I have never been on a mission like this before and it’s been great,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Anya Woods. “Having the opportunity to work closely with people in my unit to accomplish this mission has really boosted our morale. I saw a lot of teamwork, I learned a lot, and it brought more knowledge and experience to our Soldiers.”
Woods is a motor transport operator with the 1463rd transportation company based at Fort Custer Training Center in Augusta, which falls under the command of the 246th Transportation Battalion. She is a self-described “truck person” who wanted to escalate her love of trucks while serving her country.
“I look at my military service as a great foundation for wherever I want go,” said Woods. “When you hear yourself say ‘I’m part of the Michigan National Guard,’ it really makes you hold yourself in a different way because you represent your state and nation.”
Woods helped collect ammunition from the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester, Oklahoma, and transported it to the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky, and the Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Crane, Indiana. Both units from the MING went to Oklahoma twice to pick up ammunition.
“It makes you understand the monthly training that you are doing is for a reason,” said Woods. “You push a little harder and pay a little more attention because you know you are going to be using it on the mission.”
This is the first year the MING has participated in Operation Patriot Press.
“We don’t often operate on a scale of this size and this is the first time I’ve seen something like this stateside,” said Rykse. “It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience and one that I’ve been learning a ton from every day.”