Social distancing and sheltering in place means that most of the ranges on Fort Hood have been quieter as the post joins the rest of the nation in taking on coronavirus.
But Fort Hood’s Range Operations have been busy, nonetheless, during this timeframe.
“What is really the silver lining during this time of COVID-19 response is that in any given year, we only have two weeks to get into the live-fire area and do that maintenance on our training enablers, our ranges and our course roads,” Chris Hoffman, chief of training and installation range officer with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, explained. “Now, we’ve had a little over a month, and we’ve capitalized on this time.”
Hoffman said Range Operations has been able to “have the ability to work on target pits, course roads, fix areas that have needed repairs that are difficult to do and you can’t just do during the mandatory range down times.”
Through a coordinated effort with the post’s Directorate of Public Works, several projects have been underway throughout the COVID-19 response aimed at improving several ranges.
“The three shock-absorbent concrete (SACON) trenches were already scheduled to get started at Clabber Creek, Jack Mountain and Crittenberg (ranges),” Al Navarro, the Range Operations planner, said. “These SACON trenches will be ready June 14.”
The trenches assist dismounted training at those ranges, Navarro said, adding that air-to-ground integration pads, 12 in all, are currently being emplaced at Clabber Creek Range.
While construction continues in live-fire areas, in maneuver areas excess vegetation is being removed, stacked and burned as part of Integrated Training Area Management Program.
“The pandemic really hasn’t put any hold on the projects that are taking place in the training areas,” Marion Noble, Fort Hood’s ITAM Program manager, said. “These are land management projects, mostly consisting of opening up the landscape, cutting down trees so that there is more maneuverability and more visibility for the troops to conduct their training, and also some maneuver trail repairs and improvements.”
This work is being done in coordination with Colorado State University and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through the Installation Management Command.
“They (CSU) specialize in military land management, and they have a long-standing relationship with the Army at different installations. They’ve only been working here at Fort Hood for a year and a half.”
The removal of excess foliage in the training areas has another added benefit: helping to control wild fires.
“Yes, because we’re clearing vegetation in the training areas. So, if a fire were to start in the live-fire ranges and bleed over into the training areas, this work also has the advantage of reducing the fuel so the fires are less likely to keep burning and easier to put out.”
Coming into the COVID-19 period, Gene Bauer, the Range Operations contracting officer, said there was a list of 60 projects Range Operations looked to tackle. In just over a month, he said they have been able to make a sizable dent in that list.
“This became an opportunity,” Bauer said Friday. “Today, we’ve just finished inspection of 23 of those projects. That’s unprecedented.”
Though training has slowed during the post’s COVID-19 response, allowing Range Operations to improve its ranges, training hasn’t stopped altogether.
“Training support has not diminished a bit,” Hoffman said. “Anyone who is essential, we have the ability the staff and the workforce to train. We have not turned anybody away. We are manned and ready to continue to train.”
He said those essential personnel are the “life, safety and health people deploying in support of the coronavirus response, providing defense support to civil authorities.”
Hoffman said the training conducted has been at “predominantly small-arms ranges, though some Explosive Ordnance Disposal units have conducted demolition training. And we’re maintaining our unmanned aerial system proficiencies. So they’re flying over the training area and using the two landing strips that Range Operations controls.”
The bottom line, Hoffman said, is that Range Operations has been maximizing their efforts during this period in preparation of what is to come.
“When we start back up and the heavy training load begins, because we do have units here at Fort Hood that will deploy when this is over with, we’ll be able to get them out there, get them trained and have them prepared for whatever the nation needs them to do.”