JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - The scenic 293-mile route from JBER to Valdez passes glaciers, goes through valleys and over mountains. The views are breathtaking, but the roads can be dangerous.
The twists and turns of the sometimes narrow roads leave little margin for error, especially when the sign on your cargo says "explosives."
Such was the case for soldiers from the 109th Transportation Company, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, as they moved ammunition from the Port of Valdez to military bases throughout Alaska during Operation Midnight Sun, a real-world mission with valuable training benefits.
"This replicates exactly the same kind of missions that the 109th would do in a deployed environment," said Army Lt. Col. Andrew Mergens, 17th CSSB commander. "Other than not being shot at by insurgents or potentially blown up by an improvised explosive device, this is exactly the same thing they did when they were deployed to Afghanistan - driving up and down the road moving cargo."
Approximately 75 soldiers moved 27 containers of ammunition along Alaska highways. The operation involved the support of multiple agencies, including the Alaska National Guard and Coast Guard.
"Historically, this has been a contracted mission," said Lou Lansangan, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, Alaska detachment commander. "This was the first time we have had military support involved in this operation."
It will take the soldiers almost a week to complete the mission.
"Twice a year, there is an ammunition barge that comes up into the port of Valdez with ammunition bound for Fort Wainwright, JBER and other military posts throughout Alaska," Mergens said.
The soldiers will move the containers from Valdez to the installations and drop them off at the ammunition supply points. Once the containers are emptied, the 109th TC will transport the containers back to the port.
"It gives us a chance to get on the road behind the wheel and do a mission that matters that is outside of training," said Spc. Justin Thomas, driver, from Sacramento, Calif.
Port workers used forklifts to off-load the barge and load the trucks, but it was the responsibility of the soldiers to secure the cargo.
A locking device, called a pineapple, secures the container to the trailers. The soldiers also used four 5,000-pound ratchet straps on each container for added safety.
"They set the load on the truck, but we make sure they set the load right and it is secured and safe for transport," Thomas said. "No matter the terrain we travel, we make sure we are safe, other drivers are safe and the load is safe.
With the northbound portion of the mission successfully completed, soldiers now look to the south.
"Everything is going well and we are keeping our timeline as we planned," Lansangan said. "Real-world is great for training."