FORT PICKETT, Va. – If you were to ask any of the more than 60 personnel assigned to Range Operations at Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett, Virginia, what their No. 1 priority is, you would undoubtedly hear the same thing from all of them: safety.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Canada, senior range safety noncommissioned officer, said the mission of Range Operations is “the safe execution of training events across all of our ranges and maneuver areas.”
MTC sits on approximately 41,000 acres just outside Blackstone, Virginia. It features open and wooded terrain maneuver areas and 21 ranges supporting almost any weapons system in the U.S. Army inventory, with barracks for more than 5,000 personnel and an Army airfield operation.
“MTC is a Level 2 garrison training center,” said Col. James Shaver, MTC garrison commander. “We train primarily reserve component: Army National Guard and Army Reserve.”
MTC also regularly hosts units from the active and reserve components of other services, such as the Marines, Navy, and Air Force, as well as federal, state and local government agencies and entities.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to train other DOD services and non-DOD agencies,” said Shaver. “Through a tiered approach with a priority of scheduling, we can support any agency who has a training mission that falls somewhere within the left and right limits of what we can provide. Live fire and maneuver is our main avenue.”
“Safety is paramount,” said Maj. Jason Simulcik, the MTC Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander. “I am very proud of our safety record.”
It takes a lot of work to ensure all of the various training events for the many units and agencies that train on MTC are safe. That is the mission of Range Operations.
“We are here to facilitate training,” said Canada. “Everything from planning, scheduling, to the execution of ranges and guidance on how best to conduct the training on the maneuver lanes or ranges. We also execute the safe operation of the Firing Desk.”
The Firing Desk is the heart of Range Operations and all training that occurs at MTC. Using the Range Facility Management Support System, a standardized, integrated system to efficiently schedule and manage firing ranges and training areas, Firing Desk personnel can use RFMSS to easily see where units and personnel are located within the maneuver areas, which ranges are currently firing, as well as a host of other information.
“The Firing Desk is the central hub for range safety,” said Canada. “At the firing desk, we’re coordinating when units are going hot, what they are going hot with, validating surface danger zones, ensuring that the RSOs and OICs are qualified to be running a particular range, and using the correct weapons and ammunition for a particular range.”
With multiple ranges and training areas used simultaneously, the Firing Desk can become a hectic and sometimes stressful place.
“There can be a hundred different things happening at one time,” said 1st Lt. Zachary Lawrie, range officer, as he was training a new member of the Range Operations team. “You have to be able to quickly prioritize what’s happening, what needs your attention first, and that’s rarely the person standing here right in front of you.”
In addition to running the Firing Desk, Range Operations personnel also go to the ranges and maneuver areas to ensure training is conducted safely in accordance with MTC guidelines. At least once a day, every live-fire range is inspected by a member of the Range Operations team who can shut down a range if any deficiencies are found.
“Our job is to ensure the safety of all personnel conducting training,” said Staff Sgt. William Vazquez, a range safety inspector. “We check to make sure they have proper equipment, their medical vehicle and personnel are prepared in the event of an emergency and, most importantly, that rounds are going where they are supposed to.”
“Safety is priority one here,” said Spc. Elizabeth Lopez, a range safety inspector.