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Iowa National Guard develops future Total Army technicians

By Master Sgt. Duff E. McFadden | Iowa National Guard | February 23, 2016

JOHNSTON, Iowa - For today’s Army to grow their next generation of skilled mechanics and diagnosticians, it takes proper training, knowledgeable instructors, certifiable skill sets and a basic understanding of schematics and technology.

And that’s where the Iowa National Guard’s Sustainment Training Center may well play a key role in helping develop those future Total Army technicians.

On Feb. 19, Maj. Gen. Flem B. Walker, Jr., the deputy chief of staff, Logistics (G-4) for U.S. Army Forces Command, toured the Camp Dodge facility, located in Johnston, Iowa.

Walker’s visit comes on the heels of Gen. Robert Abrams’ visit to the STC two weeks ago. Abrams was the first U.S. Forces Command commander to visit Camp Dodge since 1993, when Gen. Dennis Reimer visited the state-of-the-art facility.

The STC, along with the Mission Training Complex – Dodge, provides collective-level training to support battalions, distribution companies, field maintenance companies, support maintenance companies, brigade support medical companies and infantry brigade combat teams.

Originally established in 1991, it’s since evolved into a one-stop shop for all sustainment training needs.

Lt. Col. David Babb, the Sustainment Training Center commander, briefed Walker on the many facets that make up the collective technical and tactical sustainment unit training, and individual technician training at this one-of-a-kind facility.

Unfortunately, Walker said, many active duty units are unable to train here because of their high operations tempo. Often, those brigade support battalions have to travel with their brigades and don’t have the opportunity to come to Iowa.

Babb pointed out that during the last rotation, nearly 100 active duty Soldiers from the 584th Support Maintenance Company (part of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, trained here.

Following the briefs, Walker was given a tour of the Center’s technology training and allied trades areas, followed by a visit to the Rough Terrain Container Handler (RTCH) training center, complete with its two RTCH simulators.

Fewer distractions, a low teacher-to-student ratio, and interactive, hands-on training highlight a superior training environment. For example, in the tracked vehicle course, there’s a one-to-four, teacher-to-student ratio, with a total of eight students making up each two-week class.

Walker was able to talk with a few of the instructors from the 15 technician courses STC offers to the more than 12,000 federal technicians within the 54 states and territories. Each course features a digestible, 80-hour curriculum.

According to Mike Bacino, Director, National Guard Services and former STC commander, these unique STC programs feature “old school,” hands-on training.

“Approximately 65 percent of all training is done on the vehicle itself, with the other 35 percent in the classroom. They see it, touch it, and work on it. They troubleshoot it, isolate the problem, identify it, and then repair it from their schematics,” he said.

“Our courses are much richer in content today than they were back in day one. That’s a benefit, thanks to the constructive feedback from our students.”

Among the many military vehicles students can dirty their hands on are eight Abrams tanks, ranging from an M1A1ED to an M1A2SEPV2. There’s also a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) M2A3 on loan from Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, as well as the RTCHs. The Center is also hoping to receive a pair of Stryker vehicles within the next 90 days.

“Word is getting out about what this Camp Dodge facility does for our Total Army and it’s important to all our components – the active duty, U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard,” Walker said.

“It’s a very impressive operation,” he added.

There is a distinct possibility that an asset such as Iowa’s STC could become an even more valuable training resource within the Total Army Concept.

Following his early February visit, Abrams emphasized the importance of four fleets – the Bradley, Stryker, Paladin and M1A2 Abrams tank. The STC currently trains Soldiers on two of those vehicles and could conceivably widen its training base with an increase of instructors and equipment, benefiting all components of today’s Army.

What is envisioned, however, is a program much akin to that of the Master Gunnery (J3) program, where students attend a residence course and attain a skill identifier. In this particular case, it would be directed at staff sergeants and sergeants first class, as well as warrant officers, who would then earn certification as a master diagnostician.

“This is mission essential, it’s building the bench for future Army maintenance,” Walker said. “Maintaining equipment to the Army standards is a tough task. It’s all about getting back to the basics.”