FORT PICKETT, Va. – At the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers learned basic and advanced motor transport skills during the 88M Motor Transport Operator course, taught in two two-week phases Jan. 10-Feb. 7, 2015.
The course began by establishing a solid base of knowledge for the future transporters, focusing on safety with lessons on basic accident avoidance and rollover training before familiarizing the students with the U.S. Army maintenance program. Other early lessons for the Soldiers included how to properly fill out and use strip maps and basic land navigation.
Once the students complete the classroom instruction portion of the course, they head out to get hands-on training on a variety of transport vehicles.
“A lot of the time it’s referred to as ‘starting out with training wheels,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Allen Harris, the 2nd Battalion, 183rd RTI noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “That’s where we use the M1083 to start off, and that’s your basic five-ton cargo truck. We start with that because it’s the smallest and the easiest to drive.”
The transporters start small, learning how to control the vehicle in simple, controlled environments before heading out on the road to practice making turns and driving in more complex and real-world environments, both with and without a trailer attached.
“The first step is basic control,” explained Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Blankenbaker, one of the course instructors. “It’s learning how to drive around cones without hitting them, learning the truck and what its capabilities are, learning hand and arm signals and communication skills and then after that, heading out on the road.”
From there, the complexity of the vehicles increased as the Soldiers moved on to a larger truck, the M1120 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT. As with the M1083, the Soldiers learn how to maneuver the much-larger vehicle, how to maintain it and how to drive it with and without a trailer.
Once the Soldiers learn how to drive and maintain the M1120, the second phase of the course begins with instruction on the material handling equipment on those vehicles. The transporters train on loading and unloading flat racks in various configurations and learn how to work with the Enhanced Container Handling Unit that’s used to pick up and transport 20-foot containers.
Finally, the Soldiers move on to the M915 tractor trailer, learning how to basically maneuver the massive truck, how to drive on highways and byways, how to secure loads to the truck and how to back into loading docks safely and accurately.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment for them,” Harris said. “Initially, they’re intimidated by the size of the vehicles, but once they go through our training and have completed each platform, then it’s a great sense of accomplishment for them to have made it through that. In many cases they have serious doubts about their ability to learn how to drive those pieces of equipment, but our instructors are able to work with the students so they overcome their doubts.”
One student, Staff Sgt. William Robinson, from the Virginia National Guard’s 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, said his favorite part was getting to drive such a wide variety of vehicles. Robinson is switching military occupational specialties for career development reasons.
“It’s part of ‘shoot, move and communicate,'” Robinson said on the importance of the transporter MOS. “You’ve got to be able to move stuff around, to actually be able to keep the supply line going. For the Guard, it’s a vital part of whatever we do, whether it’s a snow duty mission or responding to a hurricane or something else – any kind of mission that comes up, you’ve got to be able to move equipment.”
Harris said the role of the 88M in very important and that it often falls on junior Soldiers with limited time in service to accomplish the mission.
“It’s a big responsibility, to get out there, especially with the lower ranks,” Harris explained. “They’re out there moving freight up and down the road with people who have only been in the service for a few years.”
Harris explained that beyond time spent in the military, the driving experience and knowledge level of the Soldiers varies with each class, with some students arriving with a commercial driver’s license in hand, while others have only recently earned a basic civilian driver’s license.
“It’s a vast array of knowledge and ability of driving that we get here and in doing so we have to ensure they all get trained to the same level before they leave so we know we’re producing a trained product at the end of the course,” Harris said.
Staff Sgt. Nasser Althaqeb, a U.S. Army Reservist, said he hopes the training at the RTI helps him get his commericial driver’s license and assists him in becoming more marketable in the civilian sector. He said the class was great, that “the instructors are really good,” and to succeed in the class, “the only thing you need to do is really listen and practice, and, like they say, drive it until it runs out of gas.”