Fort Custer, Michigan –
That remains the target by which the Defense Logistics Agency’s deployable civilians and their military teammates expect to erect a full-service disposition yard and start receiving property after arriving at nearly any forward location in the world.
To practice hitting that target, Overseas Contingency Operations Response Training, or "OCORT," held in “Michiganistan” each summer, remains the place where the soon-to-deploy and the could-deploy-at-any-time meet to hone their downrange skills together.
“It’s been a truly joint, or purple, environment,” said area manager Gregory Dangremond, noting that this year’s exercise participants had opportunities to receive real property from Army, Navy and Marine Corps customers during the training. “It’s been one mission, one team, one fight, and so far, everyone has integrated beautifully.”
Dozens of civilian and military logisticians from far and wide set up shop June 12-23 at Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, to get more familiar with expeditionary disposal equipment, guidance and regulations, and each other.
“It’s been fantastic,” said exercise site chief Morgan Gunn. “We have a good mixture of expertise here and we’ve been able to do a good bit of cross training.”
A week at OCORT gives teams an opportunity to orient themselves to one of the agency’s four Expeditionary Site Sets, including its moveable housing and office spaces, material handling equipment, shredders, shears, Petrogen torches and armor-piercing plasma cutters – all the stuff they can expect to be using downrange or during a contingency.
“You’re going into a site with no amenities,” said Bill Kelley, who filled the role of area manager during the first week of the exercise. By the end of the first day, the team ideally has housing and communications up. By the end of four days, they should be ready to handle just about any property that arrives. He said that in a situation like disaster response, having site sets ready to go saves DLA “hours and days, versus having to put all the stuff together and figure out how we’re going to get it there.”
The sets are scalable, getting larger or smaller as needs dictate. A small, or standard set, would likely be operated by 15 to 20 logisticians.
“We’ve got a lot of different capabilities here,” Kelley said. “We can do basically anything from A to Z.”
Demilitarizing Humvees and battle-damaged Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, better known as MRAPs, remains one of the “big” missions in Afghanistan, said Kelley, who has previously served as site chief at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. He said it takes about a day to turn one of the hulking vehicles into tiny pieces of harmless scrap. Gunn said a frequently turned-in item at Kandahar was the MRAP mine-rollers. Regardless of the item, there is DoD instruction that covers every single type.
“We’re the subject matter experts when it comes to the ultimate disposal of property,” Dangremond said. “We’re the ones that dot the final I’s and cross the final T’s. We have to do our due diligence on the back end.”
One way that trainers keep exercise participants on their toes during OCORT are through scenarios or “injects” that mirror the kind of challenges that frequently pop up when operating in an austere environment. One of the scenarios this year involved a generator failure. Participants got an opportunity to practice switching out cables to keep the power flowing to their portable buildings.
“Equipment goes down downrange,” Dangremond said. “Depending on how long your equipment has been in country, it may be super reliable, it may be unreliable.”
Navy Chief Steve Nalbandian, assistant officer-in-charge of “Camp Outkast,” came from a Seabee background and praised the realism of the OCORT training.
“In the past, being a Seabee – integration with civilians hasn’t always been great. Here, it’s been awesome,” Nalbandian said. “Seeing this end of [logistics], and learning it, it’s been a great experience, seeing what DLA does for us.”
Nalbandian and others also praised the support staff that plans the exercises, maintains the equipment and allows military and civilians to train together just like they’ll end up working together downrange.
“They’re just amazing,” Nalbandian said. “They are absolutely instrumental to the success of these operations.”
Navy Lt. j.g. Chris Deason is the officer in charge of Disposal Support Unit 2, out of Columbus, Ohio, and a first-time OCORT participant. He was formerly an enlisted logistics specialist who deployed for DLA Disposition Services previously, but never had a chance for OCORT-type training prior to heading overseas.
“What we’re doing here is way more than what I was doing as an enlisted guy. This has grown in leaps and bounds. To me, this exercise is phenomenal, I love it,” Deason said. “The way DLA prepares people to deploy has vastly improved. When I deployed, you just showed up and said ‘here I am, what am I doing?’ The stuff we’re doing … this is awesome.”