Soldiers, Coast Guardsmen gain motor transport skills at Va. Guard schoolhouse

Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen enrolled in the 88M Motor Transport Operator Course at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute conduct hands-on training on a 5-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle, or MTV, July 24, 2013. The 21 students enrolled in the course practiced a variety of maneuvers, including reversing from a 45 degree angle and conducting right turns. The course is four weeks and consists of three phases. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen enrolled in the 88M Motor Transport Operator Course at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute conduct hands-on training on a 5-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle, or MTV, July 24, 2013. The 21 students enrolled in the course practiced a variety of maneuvers, including reversing from a 45 degree angle and conducting right turns. The course is four weeks and consists of three phases. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – National Guard Soldiers from Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C, along with Coast Guardsmen and Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve, learned basic and advanced motor transport skills during the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute’s 88M Motor Transport Operator course, taught July 20 – Aug. 17.

“The primary function of the course is to reclassify Soldiers from other [military occupational specialties] that need to be qualified as 88Ms for promotion or unit needs,” said Sgt. 1st Class Charles R. Flynn, the 88M course manager. “We give the Soldier a good foundation of what an 88M Motor Transport Operator would do at a line unit. That way the unit has something to build off of to make the Soldier more knowledgeable in their job.”

The four-week course consists of three phases and walks Soldiers through the basics of driving large vehicles, to more advanced concepts like convoy operations, both with and without a trailer, and improvised explosive device recognition and defeat. Soldiers conduct training on the 5-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle, or MTV, and the U.S. Army’s Palletized Load System as well as the M915.

“Learning to drive the vehicle means starting it off, conducting [Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services], safe driving maneuvers, being able to scan 10, 15, 20 seconds ahead and then doing shut down operations at the end of the mission,” Staff Sgt. Thomas Blankenbaker, one of the course instructors, said.

This year’s 88M course marks the first time Coast Guardsman have participated in the course right alongside Soldiers. The Coast Guard typically relies on the U.S. Army to move their boats across the country, and the two Coast Guardsmen enrolled in the course hope to assist with the driving in future cross-country missions once they become 88M qualified, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Borros, a machinery technician and one of the Coast Guardsmen enrolled in the course.

“I’ve always wanted to drive big trucks,” Borros said. “So this is a great way to do it.”

Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen enrolled in the 88M Motor Transport Operator Course at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute conduct hands-on training on a 5-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle, or MTV, July 24, 2013. The 21 students enrolled in the course practiced a variety of maneuvers, including reversing from a 45 degree angle and conducting right turns. The course is four weeks and consists of three phases. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Borros said he and the other Coast Guardsman in the course intend to take the training they learn at Virginia’s RTI back to their unit and help their fellow Sailors learn the basics of motor transport.

“When the Army helps us drive across the country with our boats, we want to be able to help and drive the vehicles also,” said Borros.

For the other 19 Soldiers in the course, the reasons for transitioning to the 88M MOS were varied.

“There are several reasons why they transition,” said Blankenbaker. “They might need a MOS for promotion, or the unit might have equipment that they need to move and they need professional drivers to do it.”

“E-5’s in my MOS are stagnant,” explained Sgt. Jerome Dendler, from the 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who has found promotion potential in his current MOS, 91E Allied Trade Specialist, nearly impossible due to a minimal number of available positions. With his transition to an 88M, Dendler hopes to improve his chance at promotion.

Staff Sgt. Greg Genova, from the South Carolina National Guard, made the transition to 88M for a new job assignment and because it will also help him achieve promotion. “They’re real hands-on here,” he said of the course. “You’ve got everyone from a private who has never even seen one of these trucks, let alone been in one, to some of the guys who have been in and out of them for years. It’s neat to see the different experience levels and the way [the instructors] adjust the teaching to the student’s skill level.”

During the course, students must successfully complete a variety of evaluations, including two written exams, a PMCS exam, which requires students to find seven out of 10 deficiencies on the truck, and conduct two convoys, one short, and one long, according to Staff Sgt. Anthony “Tree” Hairston, an 88M course instructor.

“There’s a lot of 88M stuff going on in theater right now, and in the Army altogether,” Hairston said on the importance of 88M-qualified Soldiers. “All the stuff that goes overseas has to be moved from Point A to Point B, and we need truck drivers to do that.”

Hairston said the training the Soldiers receive at the RTI could open up opportunities on the civilian side, allowing Soldiers to easily acquire their commercial driver’s license, or CDL, through a program called Troops to Trucks. With enough military driving experience and a sign off by their commander, service members can visit the Department of Motor Vehicles and take a written exam in order to obtain their CDL without additional driver’s training or testing.

“This is something that takes commonsense in both worlds – civilian and military – but doing the training here is like going to an advanced course in the civilian world,” Blankenbaker said.

According to Flynn, the RTI now has DMV-assigned examiners who can administer the CDL skills test and sign off on the license form for Soldiers who successfully complete the course and earn the 88M MOS.

Success in the course, for Blankenbaker is simple. “Don’t run me over, don’t hit my cones, and take these skills back and improve themselves and their unit.”

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Photos: Va. Guard schoolhouse instructs Soldiers, Coast Guardsman on motor transport – July 24, 2013

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