Spc. Joshua E. Davies guides Sgt. Chris D. Ringler as he shifts a pallet with two deactivated 2,000-pound bombs into place on a a Palletized Load System truck during Operation Golden Cargo at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, Ind. (Spc. Bryan A. Randolph / U.S. Army)
For two weeks in July, this year’s “Golden Cargo” exercise demonstrated that reservists and guardsmen are ready to roll, should they be called to active service.
The nationwide exercise tasked 2,111 soldiers with transporting ammunition in 1,269 vehicles over 511,000 miles of road. The annual DoD logistics exercise puts Reserve and Guard forces in charge of real world ammunition.
“This is a good live exercise before having to do that for real in a combat environment,” said Col. Dwight Ortiz, commander of the 653rd Regional Support Group in Mesa, Ariz. He led the western region element of the exercise, which hauled 4,500 short tons of munitions from San Francisco to a Hawthorne (Nev.) Army Depot and on to Tooele (Utah) Army Depot.
The exercise gave soldiers an opportunity to apply their weekend training in the real world.
“We actually have drivers and ammunition loaders, actually doing their jobs. They are on the road actually driving,” Ortiz said. That means not just clocking miles, but dealing with the minutiae of transport logistics: all the blown tires and oil leaks.
While ongoing training may put reservists through the paces, “it’s not often they get a chance to get out and take ammunition … put it on pallets, get it ready for loading,” Ortiz said.
More than just an exercise, the 20-year-old Golden Cargo program helps reposition critical ammunition for the Joint Munitions Command and the Department of Defense.
Nor is Golden Cargo merely a trial run, Ortiz said. In this year’s exercise, for example, a truck in the East Coast region contingent broke down, bringing the convoy to a halt. Repairs dragged on, and with night closing in, the drivers needed to park their rigs so they would not violate restrictions on hours of driving time.
A commander on the scene saved the situation by contacting nearby Scott Air Force Base and finding room there for the trucks to wait until morning. Local law enforcement agreed to guard the disabled vehicle overnight.
“That is the kind of thing [a commander] should be able to do down in Afghanistan. You have commanders who are not only planning things, but reacting to different situations on the fly. There is nobody shooting at you here, nobody is setting up IEDs, but these are still decisions that are difficult and have to be made on the fly,” Ortiz said.
In the West Coast region, it was often the climate that gave soldiers a taste of what real-world operations might be like, with temperatures frequently breaking the 100-degree mark.
“We have some young soldiers who have never been to Iraq or Afghanistan,” Ortiz said. For them, the exercise demonstrates the importance of military systems in the real world.
“This is how you use it, and why it is useful.”