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By Brad Rhen
Sergeant 1st Class Josh Partner sits at a desk in Fort Indiantown Gap’s Range Operations building, radios cackling around him. On the wall across from him, several television monitors show camera feeds from over a dozen different ranges and training sites across the installation.
The desk is known as the “Fires Desk,” and Partner and the other Soldiers who man the desk help manage the training that takes place here in real-time.
“They’re like the nerve center for the installation,” said Capt. Michael Shea, Range Management Authority at Fort Indiantown Gap. “They’re the last line of defense before something goes sideways.”
As the temperatures steadily increase, the Soldiers and civilian employees at Fort Indiantown Gap’s Directorate of Plans, Operations, Training and Security who schedule and manage the training at the installation are preparing for their busy season.
Shea, who has been RMA since August 2020, said training activity typically starts picking up after Easter and usually peaks in June or July before starting to tail off.
“Our busy season essentially goes from the week after Easter to the middle or end of August,” Shea said.
If recent years are any indicator, 2023 will be plenty busy. Fort Indiantown Gap is regularly among the busiest National Guard training centers in the country.
During fiscal year 2022, 129,885 personnel trained here for a total of 688,833 man-days of training, tops in the nation in terms of actual training. Fort Indiantown Gap was also the busiest overall training center in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2021 and has been in the top three every year since 2013.
Before any organization – whether it’s a Pennsylvania National Guard unit, a unit from another branch or another state, or a non-Department of Defense organization – can conduct training at Fort Indiantown Gap, they must go through the Range Scheduling section.
Sgt. 1st Class Tammy Trautman, range scheduling noncommissioned officer in charge, said the section uses a web-based data program to schedule training. After establishing an account, units can request everything from ranges and training areas to simulation facilities to billeting to Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities, Trautman said.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” she said.
But it’s not as simple as signing up for a range or training area. Depending on what area a unit is using and the type of training it is conducting, adjacent areas may fall into a surface danger zone and are then unusable during that training. All that must be deconflicted, Trautman said.
“It’s very tedious and requires a lot of attention to detail,” she said. “It can be stressful.”
To ensure scheduled training goes off without a hitch, Shea said meetings are held six times a week – every weekday morning and Friday afternoon to cover the weekend. The meetings include representatives from Range Operations, Range Scheduling, other tenant organizations and Fort Indiantown Gap’s Environmental Section.
“Everyone’s there to make sure we have a common operating picture for the day,” Shea said. “We’ll push all the information out to the folks who need it and make sure everybody’s tracking.”
The busy season also affects the Soldiers and civilian employees tasked with maintaining the ranges, said Kurt Spieles, Fort Indiantown Gap’s range program coordinator. The more training that is going on, the more time the section must spend maintaining, resupplying and modifying ranges.
“I have to put my range maintenance guys to task if there are target backers, target frames or target lifters that need repairs, because if there’s an increase in use there’s going to be more to deal with,” Spieles said.
Also, Spieles said, units sometimes request modifications to ranges to suit their training needs, so his section has to do that.
Prior to the busy season, Spieles said his section prepares by stocking up on targets and other supplies.
“We ramp up prior to the busy season to make sure we’re ready,” he said.
On the flipside, Spieles said there are certain aspects of his job that he tries to save for times of the year when Fort Indiantown Gap is not as busy.
“That’s when I try to get larger projects done,” he said, such as major range construction projects.
The Training Support Center, meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily have a busy season. Rather, it is steadily busy year-round.
The TSC, which also falls under the DPOTS, is comprised of the Training Aids, Devices, Simulators and Simulations (TADSS) section and the Simulations section.
“It’s fairly steady throughout the year,” said Michael Domalski, a TADSS specialist.
“I would say we’re fairly busy across the board with the exception of maybe December,” said Sgt. 1st Class Damon Hassinger, Simulations NCOIC.
The TADSS sections offers a wide variety of training aids, including dummy weapons, Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) gear, medical equipment and opposing force uniforms and clothing.
“We currently have about 12,000 items on the shelf,” Domalski said.
The simulations section manages numerous state-of-the-art simulators, including Engagement Skill Trainers, Virtual Combat Operations Trainers, Operator Driver Simulators, Call-For-Fire Trainers and Stryker Crew Trainers.
“We provide a service for rotating units at Fort Indiantown Gap: the ability to train in an environment where they can get a device that’s already set up,” Hassinger said. “They may or may not need operator training for that device. So we provide them that environment, that piece of real estate and that trainer to complete whatever it is they need to complete here at the installation.”
While Fort Indiantown Gap is regularly at or near the top of the list of busiest National Guard training centers, it is the many people who work behind the scenes at the installation that make that happen.