Individual augmentees practice shooting on a weapons course at Fort Bliss, Texas. The post now has a center to prepare 'individual deployers' for their tours to 30 countries. (Sgt. Marcie Wright / Army)
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In one month, the new Continental United States Replacement Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, has processed almost 250 soldiers and Army civilians for their overseas deployments.
The Army consolidated its CRC operation Aug. 9, moving it from Fort Benning, Ga., to Fort Bliss.
The CRC is where individual deployers typically spend a week drawing their equipment and undergoing required briefings and processing before deploying. These soldiers, who deploy without a unit or as individual augmentees, also will undergo redeployment processing at Fort Bliss after completing their tours.
“It’s nonstop now until we get to Christmas,” said Col. Carolyn Birchfield, commander of the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, First Army Division West, the unit tasked with running the CRC. “It’s a matter of having the right systems and processes in place so we’re able to keep up with the throughput.”
On Oct. 1, those who would have deployed through the Army Corps of Engineers Deployment Center in Winchester, Va., also will process for deployment from Fort Bliss.
In March, the Army is expected to decide if it will move the Individual Replacement Deployment Operations at Camp Atterbury, Ind., to Fort Bliss, Birchfield said. The IRDO processes contractors for their deployments.
Consolidating the CRC operations makes sense, Birchfield said.
“Given the fiscal environment we’re currently in, the Army was looking to consolidate some of these operations and eliminate the redundancies,” she said.
The move also “fits very nicely with the First Army mission,” Birchfield said.
“We already conduct readiness for Guard and Reserve units as they come to the mobilization center,” she said. “Given that mission set, having individual deployers also falling under First Army and our brigade nests very nicely.”
The 402nd Field Artillery Brigade’s primary mission is to conduct post-mobilization training for Army Reserve units, convoy and entry control point live-fire training, and detainee operations for soldiers, airmen and sailors, according to the unit website.
To prepare for their new CRC responsibilities, soldiers from the brigade conducted a seven-day dress rehearsal in July.
The day-to-day work of getting soldiers and Army civilians through the pre-deployment process falls mostly on about 125 soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 398th Infantry Regiment, an Army Reserve unit from Kentucky.
The soldiers, most of them drill sergeants, are on a yearlong mobilization and assigned to the 402nd, said 1st Sgt. Dusty Alexander, who is serving as the battalion command sergeant major.
“We’re drill sergeants by trade,so we have the right skill set,” he said. “It’s fit really well with what we’re trained to do.”
But his soldiers also have had to change their mindsets, Alexander said.
“We’re not pushing privates. We’re now dealing with a senior [noncommissioned officer] or a senior officer,” he said. “We’re now a customer service organization instead of a training organization, if you will.”
Since the CRC moved to Fort Bliss, four cycles of soldiers and Army civilians have come through for the seven-day processing, Birchfield said.
Deploying soldiers arrive on a Friday and train all week before leaving for overseas the next Friday, she said. Depending on where an individual is headed, they leave either on a chartered flight from Fort Bliss or fly commercial to their destination, Birchfield said.
“What’s unique about the CRC, which I didn’t realize, is how many countries individual deployers go to,” she said. “There are up to 30 countries. It’s not just the [Central Command area of operations].”
The CRC is set up to handle up to 850 people at any given time, Birchfield said. This includes deployers and redeployers, and the CRC likely will only hit that type of volume if the Army decides to move the IRDO from Camp Atterbury to Fort Bliss.
A more typical cycle likely will have about 250 people, plus another 100 or so once operations in Winchester move to Fort Bliss, Birchfield said.
During their time at the CRC, deployers will undergo classes and training depending on where they will be deploying. This could include counter-improvised explosive device training, basic first aid, classes on rules of engagement and sexual assault prevention, and weapons training.
Where CRC operations have had “friction points” were issues they didn’t plan for or didn’t know they had to plan for, Birchfield said. For example, there was unexpected paperwork required for civilian deployers, she said, and some soldiers require passports and visas.
“Those were the challenges we faced to figure out how to get them deployed as quickly as possible,” Alexander said.