Soldiers of 429th BSB make 2014 AT possible for 116th IBCT

Water purification specialists of South Boston-based Company A, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team treat water to be distributed to more than 2,300 Soldiers on Fort Pickett, Va., June 21, 2014. Company A Soldiers produce 15,000 gallons of clean drinking water for their fellow 116th IBCT Soldiers per day during annual training June 14-28. (Photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — When most people think of the Army, they picture infantrymen operating in the field, firing their weapons and sustaining themselves on packages of meals ready to eat. But how did those troops get to the field? Or get fuel to continue driving their Humvees, or ammo to continue firing their weapons? How do they safely nourish themselves to continue the fight?

Support units are not what comes to mind for most people when they think about an infantry brigade combat team, but the 116th IBCT could not function without the Soldiers of its Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion. The battalion provides vital goods and services throughout the brigade year-round, but especially during annual training. With a demanding training schedule and continuous field operations at Fort Pickett, June 14-28, the capabilities of the 429th were crucial for a successful annual training.

The occupationally diverse troops of the 429th provide an array of expert services vital to all Soldiers within the brigade. Companies A, B, and C provide second-tier services that any of the brigade’s units may require.

Soldiers of Company A circulate fuel for Soldiers’ bodies and equipment so they can continue the fight. The distribution company supplied nearly 100,000 rounds of ammunition, more than 26,000 gallons of fuel and approximately 45,000 gallons of water to units throughout the brigade over the two weeks.

With temperatures often climbing over a hundred, safe drinking water was in high demand throughout Fort Pickett. The water purification specialists of the South Boston-based Company A distributed more than 3,000 gallons per day of clean water to the approximately 2,300 brigade Soldiers. Soldiers would extract water from Twin Lakes on Fort Pickett and run it through the Tactical Water Purification System, which uses state-of-the-art reverse osmosis technology to produce 1,500 gallons per hour of potable water from any source, including salt water and nuclear, biological and chemical contaminated water.

The potable water was distributed throughout the brigade using the company’s recently acquired Load Handling System Compatible Water Tank Racks, commonly referred to as HIPPOs. With each of the four HIPPOs 2,000-gallon capacity, delivering water throughout the brigade is much more efficient than in previous years.

“It used to be crazy tracking all the smaller water buffaloes, bringing them back and forth,” said Spc. Kimberly Jackson, a water treatment specialist with Company A. “Now we load up the HIPPO and drop it off at a battalion area and they can manage distribution from there.”

The battalion’s Richmond-based maintenance company is more than a motor pool with mechanics turning wrenches on Humvees, although the seasoned mechanics do have the tools and expertise necessary to fix any of the brigade’s approximately 800 vehicles and they serve as the second level of assistance for vehicle recoveries. With its vast array of gauges, the small arms section of Company B can perform the most complex services on all of the brigade’s thousands of weapons from M9 pistols to M119A2 howitzers. And technicians in the electronics section are responsible for much of the brigade’s sensitive equipment, such as Blue Force Tracking systems, PAS13 Thermal Weapons Sights and Night Vision Goggles.

“We have the latest and greatest in weapons and recently recapitalized fleets,” said Col. John M. Epperly, commander of Staunton-based 116th IBCT. “But it’s going to be a while until we can recapitalize this gear, so we’ve got to take care of it. The equipment we have now might very likely be used by future Soldiers who haven’t even been born yet.”

In addition to providing sick call, a daily lineup of military personnel requiring medical attention, Soldiers of Charlottesville-based Company C, serve as the next level up in providing care to sick and wounded Soldiers. The company’s Role 2 medical treatment facility provides dental, laboratory, behavioral health and patient holding services in the field.

The medical company also serves as a vital commander’s tool by tracking trends and sending data up to brigade headquarters to be analyzed and determine if standard operating procedures should be changed.

“The first few days of annual training we reported data on heat casualties we had coming in,” said Capt. Melissa Canada, commander of Company C. “From that brigade command changed the SOP reducing the amount of time Soldiers were wearing body armor and we saw a significant drop in the number of heat casualties coming in.”

The battalion’s Companies D, E, F and G are forward support companies attached to the brigade’s cavalry, infantry and artillery battalions. The FSCs provide first line support to the line units. Designed to operate forward on the battlefield alongside combat arms, FSC’s are leaner versions of Companies A and B that provide first line distribution and maintenance services. With containerized kitchens acquired two-years ago, each support company can prepare hot meals for up to 1,500 troops per day without leaving the field.

In addition to conducting their support missions which occupy a normal work day alone, 429th Soldiers participated in the 10-day eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation. XCTC focuses on skills Soldiers need in potential combat situations and included numerous live fire and situational training exercises. Many of the exercises were conducted during hours of limited visibility, with active duty Army Soldiers as mentor/coaches to provide instant feedback on how the units performed.

“This exercise allows us to train on the basic Soldier skills of shoot, move and communicate, in the context of our support mission, which has been fantastic,” said Lt. Col. Billy Tucker, commander of the 429th BSB. “Morale is really high because they are able to do the stuff they haven’t been able to do since either basic training or pre-deployment, deployment setting.”

Being busy is good for morale among the support battalion’s Soldiers. Every section reported that Soldiers were motivated and excited to be conducting thorough Soldier skill training during the XCTC rotation, even if they did have to get right back to their primary support missions after training.

“They’re double-tapped a lot between lane training and fixing vehicles,” said 1st Sgt. Randy Shaw of Company B. “BSB Soldiers don’t complain though, they’re busy so they’re happy.”

“We really appreciate the support we received from the Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group for providing some of the transportation that helped relieve some of the load from our Soldiers so they could prepare for these XCTC platoon validations,” said Tucker. “We could not have done it without them.”