Stolen Barracks

Stolen Barracks

Another in a series by Tom Rozman

The operations officer of an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) instructor group at a North Eastern land grant university was into his final checks regarding the deployment of the cadet battalion to an active army installation.  The army post was an hour and a half by vehicle travel from the campus.  The exercise was a major annual training event for the cadet battalion.  Many of the battalion’s critical annual training objectives would be addressed using the installation’s training facilities, specifically its weapons ranges and maneuver training areas.  Experiential training on these facilities was critical for the third year cadets in their preparation training prior to attending the almost two month advanced camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina the following summer.  As well, it allowed the reserve officer cadets an opportunity to get the feel for an active army garrison and training environment.  Some 150 cadets and 10 instructor group cadre would be deploying for the exercise late Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon of the targeted weekend.

Because of the high demand by other reserve units and cadet corps for access to the army post’s facilities and the need through the Cadet Command to lock funds for the training in well before the event, the instructor group’s plans, operations, and training office began the planning process for the following year as soon as the event concluded once back on campus.  Critical was the reservation request processing for ranges, training areas, other training facilities and most critically—barracks.  In other words a long and careful planning process with supporting coordination was about to bear fruit—and because the cadet corps had been expanding over the last several years the need for support  was increasing.

The reservation process for facilities was coordinated through the Reserve Components Office (RCO) at the installation, an office overseen by a lieutenant colonel.  The group operations officer at the time was a promotable captain.  He was directly assisted in his work by a sergeant first class operations sergeant.

The operations officer, as mentioned, had forwarded the support requests for all of the needed facilities to the RCO almost a year ago at the end of the week after return to campus from the preceding year’s deployment.  On receipt of confirmation a month after initial submission the operations office checked with the RCO each quarter to reconfirm all arrangements.

During the last quarter just prior to the event, the operations office checked status monthly to reconfirm the standing of all requests.  A final check a week from deployment was the final confirmation.  The instructor group’s colonel, the professor of Military Science, was briefed after each check. The instructor group’s staff also received regular briefings.   All staff were fully up to speed on the operation.

The checks were made in this manner not only to confirm, but to deal proactively with any unanticipated developments such as a facility becoming unavailable for maintenance, a preemption by a higher priority unit or a facility no longer being available.  Early knowledge of any change or denial allowed rapid reprogramming well in advance of a deployment.  The RCO did notify without prompting of changes but the checks provided insurance and early knowledge that adjustments to the program may be needed.

The arrangement of transportation from the campus to the installation and back, the drawing of equipment and weapons, the securing of barracks, the inspecting of facilities prior to signing for them was a major task for the small staff of the instructor group and the cadet chain of command of the cadet battalion.  To ensure that all tasks were performed as necessary, teams of cadre and cadet battalion chain of command assumed key roles and tasks in the coordination and preparation such as on campus pre-training, the detail that coordinated the loading of the battalion on the contracted buses to include roster accountability, to one of the most critical teams—the advanced party that deployed to the supporting installation the day before the cadet battalion deployed.  Each team had a team leader and assistant team leader for redundancy.

This latter team had the most critical mission—signing for and gathering in all the equipment and facilities that would support the exercise.  The team was led by the Operations Officer.  For the most part, it was a one stop shopping event for initial signing for facilities at the RCO then inspection of equipment, sites and facilities to ensure serviceability with enough time to react if there were issues.  But, not all signing occurred at the RCO.

For the upcoming exercise the Advanced Party Team had conducted its pre-deployment as planned.  The operations officer had completed his checks.  All reservations were confirmed at the RCO.  The Operations officer as team leader for the advanced party would be deploying to the installation the Thursday prior to the weekend of the deployment.

As planned, the advanced party deployed.  Safely arriving at the installation, the team broke into sub teams to handle tasks.  The team responsible for billeting led by the instructor group supply/logistics sergeant with the cadet battalion S-4 (supply officer), among other stops would be signing for the barracks at the billeting office.  The team had two other stops before it reached the billeting office.

Early on Friday afternoon the operations officer received a call from the supply sergeant in the forward deployed temporary operations office.  The supply sergeant informed him that while he, the supply sergeant,  was signing over the barracks, a major from another university’s instructor group came into the billeting office.  The major preempted the billeting sergeant from his transaction with the supply sergeant.  It developed that the major’s instructor group had not fully coordinated their barracks and when told by the billeting official what barracks were available, the major expressed dissatisfaction.  The major asserted his rank and demanded the barracks being signed to the supply sergeant.  The supply sergeant immediately contacted the operations officer who was already in the area of the barracks occupying the operations office that had already been signed for informing him of events and reporting that the major was enroute to the barrack area.

On arrival of the major in the barrack area he was received by the operations officer.  The operations officer confronted the major concerning his high handed action.  The major refused to relinquish the barracks.  A short sharp exchange ensued after which the captain operations officer immediately contacted the lieutenant colonel in charge of the RCO.  It was late afternoon and the cadet battalion enroute was more than half way to the installation—the problem had to be fixed before the buses arrived.  Not only was the billeting critical, but the avoidance to the cadets of any indication that their staff had not done its staff work properly was vital.

The RCO lieutenant colonel and the captain met at the barrack area—the other university’s cadets had already begun to occupy the “stolen” barracks.  The captain respectfully but forcefully made his case for barracks to be made immediately available.  The lieutenant colonel, a good officer, went through his options.  They were not ideal.  But by a management of other scheduling he was able to make other barracks that met the instructor group’s needs available.  The billeting team made haste to draw the keys—and just in time.

As the cadet battalion arrived, the cadets were immediately introduced to their quarters to prepare for the evening’s training.   Billeting proceeded smoothly as if there had never been an issue.  In the event, a very successful exercise developed and concluded two days later.

It must be emphasized that another aspect of the operation’s officers sense of urgency was the absolute necessity of not wasting and cadet time—they were students.  Training available time is scarce and has to be used to maximum effect.

As postscript, the operations officer was counseled as a result of communication by the other school’s professor of military science to the 1st ROTC Region headquarters for his “directness” with the major, something not out of character for an infantryman.  But  the captain’s Professor of Military Science, who had been on station the next day of the weekend deployment and was fully aware of the circumstances, gave it a bit of a wink.

The story illustrates the need for leaders to do the right thing—sometimes risking painful consequences.  While seniority is to be respected, misapplied seniority at the expense of one’s subordinates and for the wrong reasons deserves to be confronted.  The best of all worlds is, by extremely good planning and preparation, to avoid bad situations.  But sometimes the best of plans may, by an uncontrolled factor,  produce a situation.  In such case, a leader may have to act and act quickly—and there may be personal risk.  But, the right thing has to be done.