Each morning at Fort Irwin, California, the sun creeps up behind the mountains of the Mojave Desert and throws shades of fire across the horizon as Soldiers walk between clusters of military vehicles and tents. Among them are Iowa Army National Guard Soldiers with the 1034th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), 734th Regional Support Group.
This hot dusty base with temperatures averaging 80 degrees and wind speeds of up to 40 miles per hour is the National Training Center (NTC). Widely known for its extreme weather and uncomfortable living conditions, NTC provides the unit realistic joint and combined arms training.
On April 28, the unit will “roll out” of these large tents to a mock combat theater, known as “the box.”
While the 1034th is in the box, they’ll provide support to NTC’s 916th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) which pushes supplies directly to maneuver elements. Cadre will identify the unit’s training deficiencies and provide feedback to improve the force and prepare the unit for success in future operations.
The 1034th will have the odds stacked against them in this simulated combat. One of the main challenges will be maneuvering in the desert, an environment that starkly contrasts with the rolling green fields and frequent rain in Iowa.
“Being in an environment where we don’t have access to cantonment gives that added layer of stress so that Soldiers can learn to adapt and cope in an austere environment,” said Lt. Col. Christine Brooks, 1034th CSSB Commander.
This rotation gives the 1034th an opportunity to train transportation, logistics, quartermaster and maintenance Soldiers, which Brooks said is integral to the CSSB’s mission to provide holistic support.
Several other units, both active duty and reserve, are training alongside the 1034th to help carry out the mission.
Spc. Jacob Bernholtz, a signal support system specialist with the 1034th, said the training at NTC seems to be even more serious than the 30-day pre-mobilization period he went through for a previous deployment to Afghanistan.
“It will be extremely valuable experience because everyone gets to work on their jobs,” Bernholtz said. “We do Field Training Exercises at home, but we don’t actually get to test ourselves because a lot of the stuff is notional.”
The 1034th functions well together with its own various internal components, Brooks explained, but training efficiently with the other units will require a different set of skills.
“The challenge is bringing the units in underneath us that we’re not used to because we’ve not worked with them before,” Brooks said.
According to Brooks, this process started months ago through initial planning conferences with leadership. The units are on the ground now and working with them to see their capabilities has helped set the mission’s operation tempo.
The unit holds frequent Battle Update Briefs (BUBS) and Command Update Briefs (CUBS) to receive input from each section and company that can be relayed to leadership, Brooks said. These briefs help the units avoid conflict and miscommunication.
However, Brooks said, one of the best ways to ensure mission success is by going out and visiting with Soldiers and watching what they’re doing.
“Watching them in action as they’re conducting Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS) and putting their Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) gear on the equipment gives the sergeant major and I a better feel of, ‘Okay, they’ve got this,’” Brooks said. “You can tell me all day long ‘We’ve got this done,’ but seeing that for ourselves definitely paints a more solid picture.”
Overall, Brooks believes the unit has been working very well as a team. Key tasks that need done before moving to the box, like keeping track of sensitive items, vehicle densities and personnel, are getting accomplished.
There will be challenges and failures, Brooks said. The Soldiers can’t just roll out of their cots like they do out of their beds back home and walk across the room to shower. They need to be in the complete physical fitness uniform, walk across the Rotational Unit Bivouac Area (RUBA), and shower with shower shoes.
“Sometimes it’s the simplest tasks that can be most challenging,” Brooks said. “When you’ve never done this kind of training before, it can be a bit intimidating and very overwhelming because you’re in a new environment.”
Even with failures, it will be important for the unit to be flexible and able to regroup. The point of training at NTC is to learn from mistakes and implement better practices.
One of the unique advantages of being a CSSB is its diversity in Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), said Capt. Brian Lynch, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 1034th CSSB. This combined knowledge and team building aspect will make it easier to do that regrouping.
“We’re like the UPS of the Army,” Lynch said. “We make sure Soldiers get their food, water, ammunition and fuel, because if that supply chain gets cut off, they can’t keep moving forward to take out the enemy.”
Each section in the 1034th has its own duties to get particular amenities to the Soldiers, but everyone is willing to help another section do what needs done to accomplish the mission.
For example, Sergeant Kenneth Miller, an electronic warfare specialist, helped the personnel section get familiar with the Duke Electronic Warfare system, a vehicle-mounted system that neutralizes Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threats.
In addition to providing assistance within the unit, Bernholtz said they are working with individuals outside the unit as well. His section, which provides communication and information technology support, has been requesting assistance from Field Service Representatives (FSR), whose help has been essential to setting up equipment and getting everything running.
The diversity of the 1034th is what makes the unit valuable, but it can also create challenges. The key to overcoming challenges in the harsh environment at NTC will be Soldiers maintaining their morale.
One of the basic tenets of the Army is that each Soldier is a member of a team, working together to make sure each member is taken care of.
“Create and hang on to that team mentality,” Brooks said. “Rely on your buddies, have patience and build those relationships. We will get there, and we will do it together.”
According to Brooks, if the 1034th CSSB moves forward with this mentality, continues to carry out its internal tasks and connects with their integrated units, they’ll achieve what they set out to accomplish. Then each Soldier can rest confident each day the sun sets behind those desert mountains that their mission to support the Army team is successful.