Congressional staffers 'train' at Fort Polk

(Source: U.S. Army)
(Source: U.S. Army)

The following is a story released by the U.S. Army:

Story by Staff Sgt. Meillettis Patton

Fort Polk – "Feet! Guide hand! Break hand!," yelled Kate Cannon, staff member for Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, as she repelled down a 34-foot tower at the Fort Polk's air assault course on Feb. 20 as part of a program for congressional delegates.

The staff members were required to yell; feet, guide hand, break hand, as a safety precaution before bounding down the rappel tower.

Twenty-three Congressional Delegates were welcomed Fort Polk's 'Home of the Heroes', on Feb. 19.

Once a year, delegates have an opportunity to travel to military posts and train on soldier equipment, watch soldiers demonstrate task, and participate in task soldiers perform. This year, Fort Polk was the installation chosen for the congressional staff members to get an up-close look at Army units.

1st Sgt. Robert Ferguson, of 814th Multi-Role Bridge Company, 46th Engineer Battalion and a cadre of air assault qualified instructors from 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade train the Congressional staff members on how to properly tie a hip-rappel seat, and hook-up a rappel-seat to an anchor-point.

The staff was timed to air-assault standards before rappelling down the towers.

"We really benefit a lot from getting this first-hand training. I recommend this for as many staffers as possible to help you get an idea of what you guys (soldiers) go through and how we can best support you," said Will Anderson, staff member for Congressman David Scott of Georgia.

1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and Operations Group supported the congressional staff members visit with displaying equipment used during Defense (CBRN) Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Response Force (DCRF) missions and deployment readiness training. Each unit presented their training focus; 1st MEB DCRF mission and Task Force Operation's Deployment Readiness mission to the delegates.

"I work for Sen. John A. Barrasso of Wyoming," said Elisabeth Perry of Casper, Wyo. "The defense issues and military fall under my issue area. I was surprised to learn about the four branches and how they are set up and run. I've got a sneak peek at the army and the incredible amount of what goes on, (during) the readiness side."

Watching soldiers in Operations Group get ready to deploy and culture training was fascinating, said Perry.

"We started with chow at the dining facility," said Anderson. "I think it was pretty good. We toured around Ft. Polk and met with Afghan role players and people training to be advisors. We were in simulators, and drove simulated HMMWVs (tactical vehicles)."

The congressional staff did not just watch training and tour the installation. They had an opportunity to get down and dirty in soldier activities.

Staff members conquered the 1st MEB obstacle course, said Sgt First Class Dwight Boone, platoon sergeant for Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 1st MEB.

"They were highly motivated," said Staff Sgt. Jacob Sprawl, operations NCO for 1st MEB. "The majority performed exceptionally well under adverse conditions."

"We crawled [under] barred wire, getting dirty, jumping, spinning, you name it. I feel good this has been the best thing I could have done for my job so far," said Perry.

Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st MEB, led the obstacle course. They demonstrated each obstacle before each staff member pushed through each phase of the training.

"It was a great experience. This is not something you can do around Washington, unless you try real hard to find obstacles like this," said Perry. "I feel challenged."

The soldiers in 88th Brigade Support Battalion, demonstrated training conducted to stay trained and ready on their craft. The 88th BSB trained the Congressional staff on military weapons at a live fire exercise on Range 34. The staff fired the M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun, Mark 19, M240B, M203, and the M4. Staff members then maneuvered through two grenade lanes receiving a go or no-go on high crawl, low crawl and bounding. By completing these lanes, the staff learned the three basics of being a soldier, "Shoot, Move, and communicate."

"I'm excited to get out here and get a firsthand look," said Matt Haskins, of Mooresville, N.C., and representative for Richard Hudson of N.C. "This is great for folks spending time around the military or hearing about it but never getting to go out and do live fires."

This was a good exchange, said Haskins. Soldiers have an opportunity to ask what staff members do day-to-day and we see and interact with soldiers. Some people don't understand how what we do directly impacts policy.

The visit provided insight to the lives of military personnel, their families, and how military training is conducted within various commands on the installation.

Staff member have a new appreciation for what it takes to be a soldier, said Joshua Salpeter, of Miami, Florida.

"Every single person has such a unique and amazing story. Every time you get to talk to one of these service members, doesn't matter if they're enlisted or officer, you learn something so new about the military, that people like me, I hate to say, that are stuck inside the (Washington D.C.) bubble (don't get to see)," said Salpeter. "The guys here on the ground are more open, we get to interact with them and really make a connection."

Some of the noncommissioned officers and officers stood out to the Congressional staff members. Sgt. 1st class Robert Steward of HHC, 1st MEB was mentioned by name.

Sgt. 1st Class Steward and his team have run the obstacle course three or four times before we got here, said Salpeter. We are running to each obstacle and it is a bit of a challenge and he has been here doing it. They are so well trained and disciplined to be able to continually do it.

The staff members are here sucking, said Sgt. 1st class Steward, but they are embracing the suck and giving it 110 percent.