Wednesday, June 29, 2011

382nd CSSB Junior Soldiers Step

During a recent Town Hall meeting, Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, the Chief of the Army Reserve stated that although the Army Reserve achieved the congressionally mandated end-strength of 205,000 Soldiers last year, there is a significant gap in capability. Overall, the Army Reserve is short on the order of 10,000 officers in the grades of captain and major, and is challenged to develop and retain senior mid-grade non-commissioned officers.

This “gap” creates many obstacles for units to overcome and creates unique situations for commanders to deal with.

For the 382nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Kevin D. Banta, from Orem, Utah, this meant not having enough officers to fill the position of Battle Captain during a Combat Support Training Exercise conducted at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., June 6 to 30.

A CSTX is an exercise where various support units conduct collective training designed to assist in the planning, preparing, supervising and executing operations as they would normally be performed while deployed. Each unit participating fulfills a critical function in sustaining the Force such as providing gas, food, water, supplies and various infrastructure needs.

The overall coordination, management and synchronization of these operations are performed in a Tactical Operations Center by a Brigade or Battalion Headquarters - in this case the 382nd CSSB. The overall coordination, management and synchronization inside of a TOC is performed by a Battle Captain.

Given limited options, Banta selected two Specialists, Kevin C. Buretta and Nicholas J. Almelia, to fill the duties and responsibilities normally held by a junior or field grade officer.
Banta couldn’t be more gratified by the decision.

“During the course of this exercise these Soldiers have performed outstandingly,” said Banta. “It became easy to see exactly what they were capable of by accomplishing so much with minimal direction and we couldn’t be more proud.”

Banta’s observations were shared by the stream of visiting VIPs to include the 79th Sustainment Support Commander, Maj. Gen. William D. Frink Jr.
During Frink’s visit to the 382nd CSSB TOC he was briefed by the two specialists on the array of support operations being conducted by the more than 10 units participating in the exercise.

"I am constantly amazed at how rapidly our Soldiers adapt to changing situations and are willing to step into leadership positions well beyond the rank they are wearing,” said Frink. “They are highly intelligent, confident and eager to take charge. All they ask for is an opportunity to learn and be involved.”

The two Battle Captains approached their duties as anyone would hope – with determined effort.

“I’m just expected to do the best I can – and that’s what I do,” said Burretta. “I’ll do the best I can no matter what I’m asked to do - whether it is KP duty or Battle Captain - I will give my best. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Almelia, a native of Everett, Wash., independently echoed his counterpart’s mentality.

“I don’t like to fail at anything,” said Almelia, “so I’ll do my best until its right.”

Buretta and Almelia are both Information Support Specialists and have a combined total of only 5 years in service. Given their rank and experience they decided on day one to be a team.

“Originally we were assigned as day and night battle captains, but we recognized it didn’t really make sense – so we decided to work together as a Battle Captain team,” said Almelia.

Buretta, a native of Port Townsend, Wash., said the system has paid off.

“The thing that really helps me is my battle-buddy,” said Buretta. “We cover each others’ back as a team instead of making individual decisions.”

This tactic allowed them to tag-team issues and work out solutions together before taking them to the floor.

They were confident this approach would also help them deal with their biggest hurdle in the TOC – their rank.

“Being a Battle Captain is hard, being a Battle Captain as a specialist is really hard,” said Buretta.

“I sometimes bump heads with section heads – the hardest part is operating on their level without someone thinking I’m being disrespectful to their rank, but I’m just trying to do my job,” continued Buretta.

Almelia said, “Rank is always an issue, but some people really get it. Lt. Col. Banta explained to everyone on our first day that regardless of the rank we carry we had a job to do – and we were all to work together to get the job done.”

Some might view having specialists as Battle Captains as a negative, but Banta adamantly disagrees.

“I see it as a positive,” said Banta. “The gaps would be filled prior to a deployment no matter what. This situation allows us to build a system and give junior Soldiers a chance to learn and grow in a way that would be otherwise impossible.”

“The gap that exists makes it all the more important to make our junior Soldiers the Leaders we need them to be. It’s supremely important to allow these Soldiers the opportunity to test and experiment in order to improve themselves,” Banta continued.

Exercises like these are the perfect place to allow that kind of development said Frink.

“The CSTX provides an outstanding training environment for our Soldiers to gain these experiences and growth opportunities."

The opportunity given to the two specialists was not lost on them.

“The commander has enabled me by putting me in the box and setting the stage,” said Buretta. “I see it as a great opportunity and truly appreciate it.”

Almelia said, “The knowledge you gain is something you can’t learn in school. Plus, it’s fun – I like having the challenge and it definitely keeps me from getting bored.”

Banta said although Buretta and Almelia personify what can be accomplished by junior Soldiers given the encouragement and opportunity, they are not alone.

“These two specialists aren’t the only ones filling roles beyond their typical scope,” said Banta. “I can easily show you other examples.”

“We are all proud and amazed by the professionalism and adaptability in the management of this operation by our junior Soldiers,” said Banta. “These future Leaders give me confidence in the Army Reserve of tomorrow.”

Story by Sgt. 1st Class C.L. Beal