CATOOSA SPRINGS, Ga. – A crowd of Army National Guard Soldiers gather around a giant piece of heavy equipment as an Airman in a hard hat explains the purpose and function of the various knobs and shifters.
One by one, they take turns donning hard hats and helmets, climbing into the driver’s seat, and taking the machine for a spin around the field under the careful supervision of the Airman.
Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plaas from the 241st Engineering Installation Squadron is very familiar with this Vermeer RT950 trencher – he’s used it to perform his duties for the length of his career with the Tennessee Air National Guard. For many of the Soldiers, mostly ranked E-4 and below, this is the first time they’ve received training on the machines.
1st Lt. Jason Mckelvey of the 230th Signal Company was on-site training with his troops, and emphasized how valuable this experience was for them. “We typically don’t even see this equipment until we’re overseas,” Mckelvey said, “and we need to operate it to perform our job. Being able to incorporate this training and getting hands-on experience is invaluable to us.”
Tech. Sgt. Doug Haveman, team chief from the 241st EIS, is also familiar with this problem. The 241st EIS often works joint missions with Army troops, who frequently aren’t afforded these training opportunities.
“It’s a really good experience,” Haveman said. “I’ve deployed with the Army before, and we often have to train them onsite. It’s good for us to learn how to train other people, it helps them prepare and it helps us grow as trainers.”
Of course, this type of joint training is exactly what the Tennessee National Guard leadership hopes will continue to grow. Col. Jason Glass, Tennessee assistant adjutant general, Air, was on site to observe the troops working together.
“One of my initiatives is to develop Airmen and Soldiers,” Glass said. “Part of that is training. The 241st and 230th have the same mission set and it only makes sense to conduct joint training. We’re working on several opportunities to get the two groups together. For example, they will be working on a project at the Tennessee Volunteer Challenge Academy. We’re really trying to interlace the Army and Air National Guard and get them working together across the state.”
Once the Soldiers learned how to maneuver the Vermeer RT950 safely, they then received instruction on how to operate the digging functions. The machine features a rock wheel for creating a narrow trench on one side, operated from the driver’s seat of the vehicle. The other side features a backhoe with its own operator seat, from which the driver could also maneuver the machine into a better position, if necessary.
The 241st worked with a new group of 230th SC Soldiers every day for a week, repeating and refining their training instruction. Plaas emphasized that the experience was just as beneficial for them as it was for the Soldiers they trained.
“I’ve been here all week, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Plaas said. “I feel a natural desire to instruct, so it’s been a real pleasure to share the knowledge I have with our sister service. To us, it’s just fun to get outside and play on the equipment, so it’s a great experience all around.”