MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Marines and civilians at the Range/Training Area Maintenance Section rise early each day to ensure Combat Center ranges and range roads are in working condition for training units.
RTAMS is responsible for repairing, rebuilding and maintaining more than 300 miles of dirt roads, four impact area ranges and numerous live-fire training areas used by units training in Enhanced Mojave Viper, a month-long, pre-deployment training package.
Although the RTAMS team consists of 14 civilians and more than 40 Marines, the mission demands consistent attention and hard labor, said Mark Carrington, the RTAMS officer in charge.
Steve Tygart, an RTAMS heavy equipment operator, has been doing this work for 25 years, and says he still enjoys every aspect of it.
“You never do the same thing,” Tygart said about his day-to-day obligations. “There is always something new and something challenging.”
Carrington explained why RTAMS rarely has a quiet day at the office.
“We replace wire, targets, tire targets, sand targets, Hescos [structures made from collapsible boxes filled with sand] –you name it,” said the retired master sergeant from Baton Rouge, La. “We replace an average of 60 Hescos every quarter in impact areas. On top of that, every couple weeks, we go out to the live-fire ranges to replace or repair the Hescos and targets there.”
RTAMS’ area of operation includes Noble Pass, Quackenbush, Lavic Lake, Lead Mountain, Rainbow Canyon, Maumee Mine, Gay’s Pass, Cleghorn Pass, and other training areas.
Due to the high volume and demand for labor, every individual in RTAMS visits the ranges to share the work load, said Robert Moreno, the RTAMS supply technician.
The RTAMS Marines and civilians often work 50 hours a week.
“Our job requires heavy equipment operators, light to moderate construction, road repairs and setting up obstacles like concertina wire for the Marines training,” said Moreno, a San Antonio native and retired gunnery sergeant. “There are limited funds and resources, but we get the mission done.”
If repairing and maintaining ranges wasn’t enough to keep RTAMS busy, Mother Nature is always happy to add more tasks to their plate.
“Rain storms cause the most damage to roads here,” Moreno said. “We come out, mark off the dangerous areas with infrared signs and reflective tape, and our three HE [heavy equipment] operators rebuild the barriers. Then the roads are good – until the next storm hits.”
Sometimes the damage requires heavy equipment not readily accessible to the team, so they must lease it from private industries, said Carrington.
Since RTAMS exists to support training, they do not interrupt exercises to make minor repairs or replacements. The RTAMS team must be well organized and ready to slip into ranges when the training schedule allows to get the job done.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a week or a week-and-a-half to repair the live-fire ranges between units coming in for [Enhanced] Mojave Viper,” Carrington said. “If we don’t get that chance because of white space training [tentative unit training], then we’ll just follow behind the units and fix things as we go.”
Many of the Marines who take care of those repairs have either been sent to RTAMS from uniting training in Mojave Viper, or they have been added as permanent personnel from other Combat Center units. In either case, Marines take valuable skills away when they change units or get out of the Marine Corps, Carrington said.
When a hand grenade bunker burned down at Combat Center Range 410A earlier this month, RTAMS waited for the training unit to finish its evolution before closing the range to bring in supplies to replace the bunker.
Lance Cpl. Anthony Young, an airframe mechanic originally with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11, 3rd Marine Air Wing, helped rebuild the structure and said there are two reasons he draws satisfaction from his job.
“This job lets you learn something new and trains you in stuff outside of your MOS [military occupational specialty],” he said. “It also feels good being involved with keeping the ranges up. There’s a lot of work that needs to get done, and by the end of the day, I’m usually pretty wiped out.”
Other Marines who have trained on some of these ranges said they understand the importance of keeping them up and running.
“Marines wouldn’t be able to come out here and train if we weren’t around,” said Lance Cpl. Brett Myers, a rifleman sent from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “You don’t want the Marines running on broken ranges.”
Lance Cpl. Erving Wright, a maintenance administration clerk with Marine Aviations Logistics Squadron 13, out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., agreed.
“It feels good helping other Marines get ready for their deployments or Iraq or wherever they may go,” said the Charleston, S.C., native.