Staff Sgt. Melissa Calderon-Conor works to gain momentum to drag a litter containing a much heavier soldier than herself during a drill Oct. 31 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (Janet Jensen / AP)
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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WASH. — The Army sent Brig. Gen. Kurt Ryan to Joint Base Lewis-McChord to build a new headquarters full of senior sergeants and veteran staff officers responsible for supplying troops at home and overseas.
His first order of business: Get those often deskbound troops in the mud.
“Everyone’s a warrior,” a sweaty and muddy Ryan said last week after running through one of his combat drills. “I’ve got to be out there doing the same things as a private.”
Ryan, 49, is the first leader of the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. It’s a new headquarters at the base that expands on what was the 593rd Sustainment Brigade. The headquarters also oversees a military police brigade and a medical brigade.
All together, it’s responsible for about 6,000 soldiers who specialize in logistics, law enforcement and medicine.
The 593rd is the second new headquarters led by a general officer that the Army launched at Lewis-McChord in the past year. The other — the 7th Infantry Division — oversees seven combat brigades and 23,000 soldiers and is led by Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza.
The idea behind the commands is to provide more oversight of soldiers in the base’s 10 main brigades while freeing up the three-star general who leads Lewis-McChord’s I Corps. That way, he can focus on foreign alliances and challenges along the Pacific Rim.
Ryan in the next year or so aims to develop the sustainment command so the Defense Department can call on it to manage logistics — fuel, food and ammunition — for armed forces in combat or in a natural disaster.
In a deployment, the 593rd’s headquarters likely would be in charge of 4,000 to 10,000 supply soldiers drawing from a mix of active-duty, Reserve and National Guard units.
Ryan said his troops are training to be “on call, for the world.”
But first, they’re starting out with Army basics.
Last week, he had all 260 soldiers in his headquarters run through combat medical drills. Teams simulated a response to being attacked and taking casualties. It’s a necessary step even for senior soldiers to show they know what to do if they’re sent to a war zone.
With young sergeants barking in their ear, the headquarters’ troops raced through barbed-wire obstacles and barriers while toting soldiers tied to stretchers. They practiced setting up security perimeters to protect the casualties as they moved from station to station.
“If you’re standing around, grab a litter, help a patient!” a sergeant shouted.
The course stretched about the length of two football fields, and most soldiers were winded as they finished the obstacles. Most teams took about 30 minutes to work through the drill.
Despite the stress, soldiers finished the course smiling. Most are new to the unit, so the morning drill was one of their first opportunities to get outside and practice being soldiers together.
“As you went through the course, I could see that bond building,” Sgt. Maj. Abdel Guzman told one group from the 593rd’s human resources office as they wrapped up the medical exercise. Guzman helped organize the drill.
The soldiers in the human resources office did pretty well, especially with the barbed-wire obstacles.
Lt. Col. Steven Farrell, the 593rd’s human resources chief, said more practice will help.
“Just because we are a (personnel) shop doesn’t’ mean we won’t be in the fray one day,” he said.