Story and photos by Devin Fisher
Soldiers heading downrange for training prior to deploying to combat are being supported by the best range control team the Army has to offer.
Fort Carson was awarded the Sustainable Range Program Range Control Team Award Aug. 17 at the Training Support Services Conference in Chicago.
The award recognizes the efforts of
70 Department of the Army civilians and 54 contractors assigned to the Range Division, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, who maintain more than 339,000 acres of training land and 92 ranges on Fort Carson and at Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Recognition that is long overdue, said Dan Benford, range officer.
“I’ve been telling our team for 15 years (that they) are the best at what (they) do,” he said. “And now they proved it.”
Benford said he made it a point to submit an awards package this year, the fourth year of the awards program, to recognize his people for their efforts.
“It gives the employees notoriety and credit for what they have accomplished,” he said. “A lot of times the guys working downrange don’t get much visibility on their efforts other than from the training units themselves. What this does is gives them the credit for their hard work and initiative.”
The Sustainable Range Program award recognizes the top team based on five criteria – integrated management approaches, training readiness and capabilities enhancement, range and training land sustainability, information excellence and SRP innovation.
The awards submission lauded the
Range Division for its efforts in managing the training resources through an integrated and cooperative effort with the Environmental Management Division, Directorate of Public Works, to enhance support to military training while reducing the normal overhead associated with rapidly changing training requirements. A portion of the Range Division personnel are now fully-trained and part of the Fort Carson wild land firefighting team, serving as first responders to grass fires on their assigned ranges. The package also notes through close coordination with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, DPW and the Directorate of Emergency Services, the range control team helped revise the Fort Carson and PCMS hunting, fishing and recreation program efficiently integrating safe hunting and fishing with the training demands.
The range control team was cited for enhancing the War Fighter Focus supported facilities by adding false front facades, courtyard walls, furniture and training vehicles and procuring additional target devices, smell generators and remote control moving targets.
Among the sustainability initiatives was the purchase of two compressed soil block machines which allow the Range Division to provide
a more realistic training environment, Benford said. The machines take the soil and compress it into stackable bricks. More than 30 current training buildings are made of these bricks.
“We were using shipping containers and wooden buildings that are kind of realistic … but every time we were done with them we had to tear them down and throw them in the landfill,” he said.
Benford said the Range Division spends about $3 million every year maintaining the land.
“It allows us to go back in, analyze the damage, come up with a mitigation plan, fix the damage and put best management practices in place to prevent future damage,” he said.
“(Without it) we would consume the land to a point where it wouldn’t be usable anymore,” Benford said. “It would create too much dust emissions or erosion problems where it wouldn’t be a viable resource anymore.”
Range control maintains contact with units they assisted in training during their deployments to ensure they are providing current training.
“We check with them to gain ideas to put into the ranges and training facilities to make sure the next unit going into harms way has the most relevant training possible as far as what the enemy is using for tactics and techniques,” he said.
Mark Walters, Range 60 and 60A work lead, said it’s an honor to win the award, and he’s confident the range control employees will maintain the high standard they have set.
“Our guys really appreciate what we get done out here … whether we get awards or not, we know that we are training the Soldiers,” he said.
Walters said he feels a sense of security knowing that Fort Carson Soldiers receive quality training.
“As long as they took it to heart they will be a little bit safer when they get over there; they’ll have more knowledge of what to look for when they’re doing patrols.”
He said the realistic training makes it easier for Soldiers to recognize the signs that there might be an improvised explosive device in the road or that a house is booby trapped. Through the training, the Soldiers know exactly what to look for when they are walking the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan and entering buildings.
But Benford said the real reward is when the Soldiers return from their deployments.
“When you see those guys coming home and hugging their Family members … being home safe, that’s the reward,” he said. “You feel like you actually make a difference.”