JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Soldiers from 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., are loading vehicles onto railcars throughout December in advance of their scheduled rotation to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in early January of next year.
The operation is a joint effort spearheaded by 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, and carried out by Soldiers within the brigade, working together to get vehicles from JBLM to Fort Irwin.
"The 5-20 Inf. is loading the entire brigade," said 2nd Lt. Jedidiah Lawson, a Beckly, W. Va., native and the officer in charge of railhead loading for 3-2 SBCT. "You get about 60-70 Stryker (combat vehicles) per rail, and three rails make one train. We’re going to be sending out quite a few trains, so you can imagine the scope of the operation."
The operation is largely Soldier-run as the Army migrates from civilian contractor-led operations to Soldier-run tasks in an effort to save the Department of Defense money in the wake of automatic budget cuts, better known as sequestration.
"With the way the Army is moving, we’re not contracting all this stuff out; we’re doing a lot more of it ourselves," Lawson said. "Getting the Soldiers hands-on experience—the (non-commissioned officers) are the ones running each group of Soldiers at each station—is really good training and really good experience."
With fewer Soldiers currently serving overseas in a combat theater, units are better able to handle their own logistical, training and operational tasks. This allows the Army to cut back on manpower needed from outside sources.
The brigade saves additional money by virtue of shipping their vehicles via train instead of making the long haul over road.
"It costs the Army a lot less money to put them on a train," said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Davis, a resident of Irving, Texas, and the 5-20 Inf. noncommissioned officer in charge of brigade railhead operations. "It’s a personnel thing too. It is fewer hours on the vehicle, less wear and tear on the vehicles, and less worry about the vehicles breaking down on the way. It really comes down to money. It costs the Army a lot less money to put vehicles on a train and railhead them down as opposed to trying to drive an entire brigade of vehicles down there."
As the brigade continues to reinvent itself as a regionally engaged and globally responsive force in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, cost-saving measures like these will ensure that top-notch training can take place throughout the country and world without putting unnecessary stress on the military’s budget.