[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                    August 22, 2008

Fort McCoy ready to support 
81st Brigade Combat Team

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

A swarm of Soldiers buzzing throughout the Fort McCoy mobilization training center areas is not an unusual occurrence for the installation.

Photo: A group of 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Soldiers walks around the nose of the aircraft that just landed at Volk Field to unload duffle bags onto a truck to be taken to Fort McCoy. Their flight was one of many bringing the entire BCT to Fort McCoy to prepare for deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by Tom Michele)
A group of 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Soldiers walks around the nose of the aircraft that just landed at Volk Field to unload duffle bags onto a truck to be taken to Fort McCoy. Their flight was one of many bringing the entire BCT to Fort McCoy to prepare for deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo by Tom Michele)

However, all of those Soldiers being part of one large unit mobilizing at the same time will be a first for Fort McCoy, and that is commanding the scrutiny of mobilization personnel.

The 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the Washington Army National Guard will prepare to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Col. Bas Oskam, deputy for mobilization at Fort McCoy, said, "This is significant because of the size of just this unit rather than there being a lot of smaller, multiple units. This is a brigade combat team with all of its Soldiers arriving at Fort McCoy in a one-week time span. This is the first time a full BCT has mobilized here."

The 81st BCT, known as the "Washington Rifles," includes Soldiers from the California Army National Guard and a few Soldiers from Texas and Montana.

McCoy hosted the 1st, 34th BCT in the summer of 2007 for a 12-day demobilization period, but not with the same intensity and training tasks that are part of mobilization, Oskam said.

"Getting a BCT mobilizing here is a first," Oskam reiterated, "and has really been three years in the works. Three years ago we didn’t have the newest training ranges for the live firing of weapons. We didn’t have the renovated barracks, administration buildings and dining facilities."

The Army invested $18.1 million during the last three to four years in the McCoy infrastructure to upgrade its facilities and training areas, he said.

The deputy for mobilization noted Fort McCoy’s mobilization efforts several years ago focused on smaller combat-service-support units.

Although the term "mobilization" wasn’t particularly used in past decades, Oskam said Fort McCoy was designed and built in 1942 to prepare troops for duty in World War II. The installation was established in 1909, but many of the existing buildings were built in 1942.

Since that time, the Army has repositioned Fort McCoy to be a fully capable mobilization training center, Oskam said. "That is important to Soldiers coming to Fort McCoy. They will get the same quality, quantity of warrior training as at an active-Army base."

"We have better ranges than Fort Hood and Fort Bragg — that’s according to what Soldiers have told us," Oskam said. "These are Soldiers who have mobilized several times through different Army bases."

"From a Soldier’s point of view," Oskam said, "he gets on the lanes quicker and participates in realistic scenarios that he will experience in combat. The 181st Infantry Brigade trainers are the best in the business."

What will be different with the 81st will be that the installation issues more equipment at one time, will have more dining facilities open at one time and will service more equipment at one time, according to Oskam.

"This will be a culmination of three years of planning and construction at Fort McCoy," Oskam said.

Some of the Soldier Readiness Processing is being conducted at the 81st’s annual training, which was held at Yakima Training Center, Wash., immediately prior to the unit coming to Fort McCoy.

That will help reduce a few of the stations at the Soldier Readiness Center for Soldiers to go through at Fort McCoy.

"Our nation is sending the 81st Brigade Combat Team to Iraq to perform a stressful mission," Oskam said. Fort McCoy has a leading role in training, developing, equipping and validating the 81st so Soldiers will be able to conduct their combat mission in Iraq. "This is a key milestone in Fort McCoy’s history."

Fort McCoy Range Officer Terry Hoff said three machine-gun, live-fire ranges have been improved and two convoy route lanes are being improved, all with the arrival of the 81st BCT in mind.

"Several ranges will be utilized for gun truck gunnery," Hoff said. Improvements have been made to the target systems to include fully automated and computerized targets, including moving and stationary targets for both vehicle and infantry firing. Improvements also have been made to increase the height of the berms at the firing positions and at vehicle parking areas.

"This has all been done with gun truck gunnery in mind," Hoff said, "to support the 81st’s gun truck gunnery qualification needs. Gun trucks will fire both while stationary and also while moving. They have a lot of Soldiers who need to become qualified in gun truck gunnery."

Hoff said improvements were started in May and completed in August.

Command Sergeant Major for Mobilization, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Uhlig said, "From a health and welfare standpoint for Soldiers, the Fort McCoy facilities are better than a lot of other mobilization stations, including living conditions, amenities, and updated facilities."

"We stood up a new Soldier Computer Center with about 60 personal computers at a former assembly hall renovated so Soldiers may conduct personal activities online," Uhlig said. The computer center will also be available for units to conduct computer-based training.

"Today’s young Soldiers do the majority of their communications through e-mail," Uhlig said. "With this new computer facility, Soldiers will be able to stay in touch with family and friends. This facility was designed for the mobilization process and the timing is right for the 81st BCT."

Uhlig also said another addition to the McCoy mobilization effort "has been the addition of about 12 ‘green suiters’ in the last 30 to 60 days to support the entire McCoy mob mission. The help of the new Soldiers will be crucial in the success of the 81st. Each of these new Soldiers previously has been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, so they do bring a lot of expertise to McCoy."

"The mission, our mission, is to ensure the 81st BCT can meet all of their training needs with little if any distraction," Uhlig said. "We like to make sure everyone who trains and deploys at Fort McCoy leaves with the understanding and belief that Fort McCoy is a ‘Total Force Training Center.’

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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