FORT CHAFFEE, Ark -- With federal budget cuts continually looming, some may believe the military is drastically downsizing, but that is not entirely the case for one unit in the U.S. Army Reserve.
The 316th Mobility Augmentation Company, based out of Chattanooga, Tenn., was one of many new companies created by the Army Reserve as part of the Grow the Army Initiative in 2007.
The intent of this program, in part, is to bolster the capabilities of the Army Reserve as many active duty components make the transition to comply with the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure suggestions. Throughout this process, the Army Reserve is helping to ensure their strength and readiness to deploy as a unified fighting force.
The 316th MAC, was activated in October 2010 with only three soldiers assigned to the unit. Capt. Lex Oren, commander of the 316th since its inception, is an elementary Physical Education teacher at Hardy Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tenn. He also coaches middle school sports at Chattanooga’s Normal Park Magnet School.
“While I was teaching Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, my former Battalion Commander asked me to come take command (of the 316th),” said Oren. “It was a big honor, so I came over.”
Oren says the growth of the 316th MAC required a collaborative effort involving local recruiters, retention personnel, senior NCOs and officers and, even his own soldiers. The support he received at every level was executed efficiently and greatly appreciated, added Oren.
“It was an issue to get our strength up quick,” said Oren. “The best thing for me, and I took it as a huge compliment, was the word of mouth from the soldiers. They recruited their friends.”
Acting first sergeant of the 316th MAC, Master Sgt. Kenneth Turner, echoed Oren’s sentiment. “We get a real good response from our command when it comes to our needs in most cases,” said Turner. “If we need something, there is someone there giving it their all trying to make sure that it happens.”
“The recruiters have done an outstanding job,” said Turner. “When they send us a new soldier, it’s like taking in one of our own.”
The 316th MAC grew from three soldiers to 118 in less than two years. Oren equates this rapid growth to the great leadership he is surrounded by.
“I sold my intent. I sold my command philosophy and was able to select my core NCO leadership and officers from the 844th Engineer Battalion,” Oren said. “I was really supported by my battalion commander (Lt. Col. John Wolfe) to make that happen.”
To make this possible, it requires top-notch leadership, Turner said. “There are a lot of great NCOs in this unit. Every one of them has been to at least one cutting-edge school and they’ve all done their best to share their knowledge,” he said. “I have confidence in every leader in this company. They aspire to do better and I couldn’t ask for a better company to be a first sergeant of.”
Oren also added that many of his soldiers are battle tested, as over 40 have seen combat overseas.
Both Oren and Turner believe the success they have achieved so far is due to their commitment to training and unit cohesion, something they want to continue to emphasize moving forward. In the past two years alone, they have completed six three-day drills each year, opposed to the traditional two-day drill every month.
“One thing I have seen in my career is soldiers don’t want to just come and collect a paycheck,” said Turner. “As long as you get them out there and actually challenge them, and teach them how to do something, when they get done at the end of that weekend they feel like they’ve really accomplished something,” added Turner. “Every soldier has grown a lot since I’ve been here.”
“I think the key for us right now is schooling,” said Oren, who mentioned he has 20 soldiers waiting to go to advanced skill level courses or Advanced Individual Training. He said he would like to see a couple soldiers receive additional skill identifiers, like the explosive ordnance clearance agent. “They are the subject matter experts that are able to destroy improvised explosive devices in the event that an explosive ordinance disposal team can’t get there.”
“The soldiers are real close; they all know each other,” said Turner. “It has been one of the most tight-knit units I’ve ever been in, which is a blessing I believe. The training and the commitment that they have to the unit and each other is astounding.”
The 316th MAC is currently participating in River Assault 2012, here. They are furthering their training in various specialties like demolition, urban breaching and route clearance. This extensive training is well timed for the 316th MAC, which has been recently notified that they will be deploying to Afghanistan next year. Oren said their primary mission will be to conduct route clearance operations.
“Unit cohesion will be key in order to be able to effectively communicate with each other when the time comes to execute the mission overseas,” said Turner. “The next bar I would really like to see us reach is focusing on route clearance, not just as an individual, but our leaders and our soldiers all coming together as a single unit.”
“Within a three year time period (from activation to deployment) we’ll be hitting boots on ground in Afghanistan, which I think is a really huge accomplishment for myself and the company as a whole,” said Oren. “It says a lot about the character and work ethic of our soldiers, and I’m really proud of them.”
Oren was also sentimental when considering the opportunity he will have to lead his soldiers into battle.
“I don’t know how many officers have ever had the opportunity to uncase a company guidon with its first handful of soldiers, as their commander trains them and takes them to war,” said Oren. “The only reason I commissioned was because I wanted to command troops in combat. Now I do, so my focus is making sure we get the job done and get everybody home.”
“The biggest reason why they are trying to grow the Army Reserve component is because they’re preparing for the transformation that is to come,” Turner said. “For us to stay where we need to be we’re working hard to keep our edge. It is a really good concept. It is working out really well in this case.”