Would you volunteer to wake up at dawn on a Saturday to participate in a pilot program called, “Boots on the Ground Day?”
That’s what 16 Fort A.P. Hill employees and Jeff Black from the Caroline Community Council did Nov. 17 when they volunteered to spend a day on The Hill discovering how Soldiers train for combat. The 16 who participated were dubbed the 1st Fort AP Hill Volunteer Platoon.
Boots on the Ground Day was the brainchild of Deputy Garrison Commander, Robert T. Wright and garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Keith R. Whitcomb. Many employees have worked on the Hill for more than a decade and have never been to the training areas or close enough to Warriors to understand what training occurs here.
The Fort A.P. Hill Command Group felt the Warrior experience would help garrison employees better understand and serve the 92,000 military men and women who rotate through the post each year.
The event began on Friday, Nov. 16, with a mission brief, equipment issue and Preliminary Marksmanship Training at one of the post’s Engagement Skills Trainers. Range Control and Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security staff and Whitcomb conducted dry-fire weapons training in preparation for Saturday’s events.
One of the civilians who participated, Anne Ulrey, quickly realized the importance of training.
Ulrey said that the time in the EST “…made me much more comfortable with the real thing when we got on-site.”
At 6:45 a.m. on Saturday Nov. 17 the 1st Platoon boarded a bus for the ride to Wilcox Training Camp Dining Facility and a hearty Army breakfast provided by Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division (Virginia Army National Guard).
Following breakfast, the platoon moved to the M-16 Range to perform an Army Standard zero exercise with their weapons. After the zero the platoon moved to Range 35 to fire an M-16 weapons qualification while wearing helmets and protective vests.
Army spouse and MWR employee Sabine Arndt learned how challenging it is to fire a rifle accurately while wearing equipment.
“Just wearing the vest and the helmet and trying to shoot straight is incredibly difficult and that is only part of the equipment they have to wear when they are training or in a war,” Arndt said.
The members of the 1st Fort AP Hill Volunteer Platoon was up to the challenge though and successfully engaged pop-up targets as far away as 300 meters.
The next stop was the Combined Arms Combat Training Facility, a world-class, fully-instrumented training site. Soldiers from Headquarters Company, 98th Civil Affairs Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C. greeted the volunteers and briefed them on the importance of Key Leader Engagements.
The Civil Affairs Soldiers also briefed the Volunteer Platoon on their global mission and provided a Key Leader Engagement focused on the Southern Command Area of Operations which encompasses Central America, South America and much of the Caribbean. The briefings reinforced the fact that A.P. Hill hosts the full spectrum of training for U.S. military forces.
While on the way to the their next training location, the 9mm Pistol Range, 1st Platoon was issued MREs and had 15 minutes to wolf down delicious entrees like Chicken Fajitas and several bottles of water. The platoon arrived at Range 1 and began their next training event supported by 29th ID Soldiers.
The Virginia Guardsman taught weapon’s safety and proper firing techniques and then led a dry-fire exercise, a practice fire and qualification fire. The friendly banter between the Department of the Army Civilians and the Guard helped build a quick, yet solid relationship that resulted in a safe and fun qualification for all.
Arndt’s thoughts on the firing range reflected those of her platoon mates.
“We really appreciated the training and the help that range control and the Soldiers from HHB, 29th ID gave us, it is so much fun to shoot a pistol,” she said.
Upon completion of the range, Whitcomb presented Fort A.P. Hill coins to the 29th ID Soldiers and the platoon moved to its next target, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal School.
Led by the EOD School Manager, Matthew Osborne and noncommissioned officer in charge, Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Krone, the school cadre briefed the team on EOD equipment and missions. After the briefing, the platoon moved to one of FT A.P. Hill’s demolition ranges and watched as the EOD specialists gave a demonstration that ended the day with huge bang.
Their day done, the 1st Fort AP Hill Volunteer Platoon rode the bus to main post to turn in their equipment, get some hot coffee and an out-briefing from the garrison command team at Romenick Hall. The command team presented each volunteer with a Certificate of Training Completion.
Those who took the challenge and participated were rewarded with far more than a certificate.
Madelaine Perrotte-Clontz praised for the Soldiers who supported the event.
“From the Warriors that fed us breakfast–which was way better than I thought it would be–to our own individual safeties at the pistol range, they were approachable, friendly yet stayed rather serious to reflect the seriousness of what we were doing,” Perrotte-Clontz said. “It was nice to have Warriors assist us because it was a reminder of why we were out there in the first place–to get a glimpse of what they train to do here at AP Hill.”
Jeff Black from the Caroline Community Council was amazed at the diversity of training that happens in the county’s back yard.
”I have a much better understanding of the activities at Fort A.P. Hill and its vital role in national security; the area is blessed to have such an installation within Caroline County,” he said.
As the day ended it became clear to all who participated that Fort A.P. Hill’s success is due to the garrison’s positive relationship with training units combined with the “Can-Do” spirit of its employees as well as their commitment to superior customer service and focus on the warrior.
Perrotte-Clontz summed up it best.
“My key moment was when one of the Warriors in the feed line looked at me and said ’Hey, didn’t you do my ID card?’ As much of an impression as they leave on me, I was surprised that I might actually leave an impression on them as well,” she said. “I will be aware of it from this point forward. Saturday helped me see that the customer service that we provide is remembered by the Warriors. So I need to strive to make every one of their experiences in my office one to remember.”