3-Day Railhead Mission Marks Largest This Year

Story and photos by Christine June
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

***image1***Pvt. José Ballesteros describes driving over a seven-inch metal block on a wooden railcar while sitting on top of an almost 10-foot high vehicle weighing more than 24 metric tons as a “little weird.”

“It feels like you’re going over something really big, and you might tip over because it’s on a railcar and not on the ground,” said Private Ballesteros, an M-9 Armored Combat Earthmover driver with the 40th Engineer Battalion.

The 40th Engineer Battalion conducted a railhead mission, deploying 26 track vehicles for training exercises in Grafenwöhr July 18 at the Railhead Operations Center on Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Kaiserslautern. This was the first of a three-day railhead mission for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team out of Baumholder.

In total, the 2nd BCT deployed 150 track vehicles from the M-9 ACE to the M2A2 Bradley Infantry fighting Vehicle to Grafenwöhr, making this railhead mission the largest so far this year, said Maurice Jefferson, the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern traffic manager.

***image2***A railhead mission is the loading or unloading of vehicles and equipment for deployment downrange or redeployment to home station. It happens in the KMC up to 10 times a year under the watchful eyes of the garrison’s transportation and safety personnel, who oversee all railhead missions here.

“Safety is the number one issue during a railhead because there are a lot of moving parts,” said Jefferson.

It’s the deploying or redeploying units’ Soldiers who carry out the railhead mission of loading or unloading equipment, but it’s the garrison personnel who take the lead by giving safety briefings, conducting risk assessments and watching every movement from the staging to the blocking and bracing of vehicles on the railcars.

***image3***The garrison’s safety manager, Melissa Hastings said every railhead operation is different and watchful eyes are critical to ensure it runs smoothly and safely, just like this one for the 2nd BCT.

Roughly 3,500 Soldiers from the 2nd BCT will be conducting gunnery exercises for about 55 days.

“We are going to do anywhere from individual rifles, pistols and machineguns to squad and platoon live fire exercises,” said Lt. Col. Dominic Sparacio, 40th Engineer Battalion commander.

After training in Grafenwöhr, the brigade will then head to Hohenfels to conduct a Mission Rehearsal Exercise to be certified for its deployment to Iraq in November.

This railhead mission was crucial, said Colonel Sparacio, because training in Grafenwöhr before the MRE is crucial.