GRAYLING, Michigan – The maintenance bay, blanketed by overnight snowfall, buzzed with the sounds of motors idling and voices as Soldiers outside crunched through six inches of fresh snow.
The temperature was 16 degrees Fahrenheit, and thick flakes made visibility difficult. Inside the bay, coffee was brewing and heaters made life more bearable.
Foxtrot Company, 132nd Forward Support Company (F Co, 132nd FSC), Wisconsin National Guard, currently attached to the 120th Field Artillery Regiment, based in Mosinee, Wisconsin, conducted maintenance operations in anticipation of live-fire exercises.
The training at Northern Strike 22-1, dubbed Winter Strike, is sponsored by the National Guard Bureau. The exercise unites service members from several states and partner forces Jan. 21-30 at Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., which comprise the National All-Domain Warfighting Center.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Josh Pusel, the maintenance control noncommissioned officer in charge for F Co, 132nd FSC, said vehicle and equipment maintenance is crucial for a successful exercise.
“During this training, we’ll service and maintain Humvees, light-medium tactical vehicles, heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks, as well as some trailers and dump trucks,” Pusel said.
The unit also uses generators and a few weapon systems supplied by the Michigan National Guard. By Jan. 24, they had requested and received 14 Humvees and numerous parts and expected to make additional requests to sustain operations.
This equipment, including the dump trucks and other engineering equipment, will be used for follow-on units to clear routes and dig fortified positions during the exercise.
“We have been working with Michigan’s Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site (MATES),” said 1st Sgt. McKenna Palkowski, F Co, 132nd FSC. “We have been able to establish a good relationship and have been able to get parts in order to get our equipment back up and running.”
Even when equipment is functioning, the cold can significantly affect operations. Units train under these extreme conditions to establish best practices.
“As the weather gets colder, we need to run our equipment overnight and let it idle,“ said Capt. Matthew Cornette, company commander of F Co, 132nd FSC. “We’ve rarely experienced this kind of challenge before.”
“While we’re here, First Army will be evaluating me and my team,” Cornette said. “They will identify any deficiencies and assist us with making improvements.”
The observer-controller-trainers will grade the FSC on maintenance standards, communication and other areas during Winter Strike.
Cornette said about half the unit would transition into recovery operations after initial preventive maintenance checks and services. Others would support defense at one of the field artillery firing points on the base.
“We came out here to hit all the items for our unit’s mission-essential task lists,” Cornette said. “We could definitely do this training during a warmer part of the year. But Winter Strike will provide us a great challenge under less-than-optimal weather conditions. It adds another factor of difficulty for us.”
Winter Strike participants enhance their cold-weather warfare capabilities to support the Defense Department’s arctic strategy.
Even before the Wisconsin Guard arrived at Camp Grayling, the working relationship with Michigan was on full display.
“Our unit’s convoy entered Michigan through Gladstone, and they were nice enough to let us stay the night at their armory,” Cornette said. “Granted, there were a bunch of us, and we slept on cots on the drill floor. But the hospitality was nice, and the food served there was probably one of the best catered meals we’ve had. They were fantastic to work with.”
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Gladstone marks the halfway point between Mosinee and Camp Grayling, lessening the burden of a seven-hour convoy and ensuring the safety of drivers.
“It’s my first time out here at Camp Grayling,“ Cornette said. “It’s been great so far. We work closely with MATES and enjoy the relationship with the Michigan National Guard.”