Coscom Soldiers Play Contractor For MRE

The convoy is traveling to one of three forward base camps to deliver ice and bottled water to soldiers who will spend their duty day patrolling the local areas. The road ahead is dusty, full of potholes and extremely narrow. The speed limit is displayed in kilometers. The road signs indicate the next town is Brcko, Orasje or Ugljevik. As the convoy approaches an open-air market in the distance the out line of a pig roasting over an open fire can be made out through the dust. Goats roam freely through the area. There are no clouds in sight, and the expected high for the day will reach three digits. All the clues indicate the convoy is traveling the roads of a foreign country, specifically Bosnia.

However, as the vehicles get closer to the market what looked from a distance like a pig roasting is actually a card board cut out of a pig, the open market booths are actually metal sheds and the goats are not as free roaming as they first appeared. In reality the convoy is traveling the roads of North Fort Polk Louisiana.

The Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division will take over peacekeeping duties in Bosnia as Sustainment Force number 14-SFOR-14. Born of the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 the mission focuses on enforcing the peace and assuring separation between warring factions of the region. However, before they deploy the 34th Infantry Division, like all of the SFORs before them to Bosnia, are participating in a Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRE), sometimes called Mission Readiness Exercise.

The Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Ft Polk, Louisiana conducts this MRE training. Training is focused on peace keeping operations and activities and includes training in such areas as deployment and re-deployment actions, rehearsal and execution of contingency plans and staff battle drills, establishment and refinement of staff activities and reporting procedures and processes.

JRTC goes to great lengths to replicate conditions and the logistical support contracts the unit will encounter while in Bosnia. In Bosnia civilian contractors do the maintenance and deliver all classes of supply. During the 34th ID's MRE held last week, soldiers of the 13th Corps Support Command (COSCOM) replicated the transportation of various classes of supply as well as the organizational maintenance support provided by the civilian contractors in Bosnia. The majority of the COSCOM soldiers were from the 565 Quartermaster Company. Major Ivan Gonzales led the COSCOM team. Soon after their arrival at Fort Polk the COSCOM soldiers were given tan jump suits to wear and contractor badges. None of these new contractors could wear their green battle dress uniforms (BDUs) during the exercise.

In order to make sure the exercise was as realistic as possible, Major Gonzalez, or Mr. Gonzalez as he introduced himself, explained that they had to coordinated closely with representatives of the contractor that actually provides support in Bosnia to ensure the COSCOM did not do more or less then what the civilian contractor would do for the unit in Bosnia.

The ten member maintenance team primarily from the 190th Maintenance Company was led by 1LT William Alley, the exercise maintenance officer. Each morning his maintenance teams convoyed to the forward base camps in time to provide support to the 34ID soldiers during morning preventive maintenance checks and services. They then stayed at the base to perform organizational maintenance repairs just as the civilian contractor would do in Bosnia.

In Bosnia, if the unit needs supplies moved they will call their friendly contractor. At Fort Polk they called COSCOM. COSCOM was responsible for transporting all ice, bottled water and bulk water to the forward support bases from the warehouse at Camp Eagle. An actual civilian contractor delivered the ice and bottled water to the warehouse and COSCOM forklift drivers loaded them onto the trucks to convoy forward.

Each forward support base supports a population of over 100 soldiers. The LMTVs, 2.5-ton military trucks, carrying pallets of bottled water played an essential party in the ability of the soldiers at those bases to successfully complete their missions. The COSCOM unit used refrigerated trucks, just like the contractors use in Bosnia, in order to transport the daily supply of ice needed at the forward base camps.

The convoy routes attempted to replicate the time/distance of the Bosnia routes as much as possible. In order to do this some of the routes were definitely not a straight line. The routes were long, hot and dusty but PV2 Jason Wheeler expressed the feelings of most of the COSCOM soldiers when he stated that "I feel like what I am doing here will really help these guys be successful in Bosnia and plus this is just good fun, it is great to get away from the daily grind of garrison work and really practice our mission."