Unsung heroes of 3rd Battalion

By Pat Caldwell / For The Observer August 21, 2013 12:01 pm

Staff Sgt. Harold Coyle, formerly of Baker City, takes a taste of the evening meal slated for members of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment. (Pat Caldwell photo)
Staff Sgt. Harold Coyle, formerly of Baker City, takes a taste of the evening meal slated for members of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment. (Pat Caldwell photo)
 

ORCHARD COMBAT TRAINING CENTER, Idaho — They are the unsung heroes and rarely do they grab headlines or glory in war.

Yet, without the men and women, who cook, drive trucks, haul ammunition and provide fuel, Eastern Oregon’s Army National Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, would stall and sputter and come to a screeching halt.

Military people call it logistics but it is really the ability to furnish combat units with the supplies necessary to be successful. That includes fuel for the big M1A2 SEP tanks, ammo for all the armored vehicles in the battalion, water and food, spare parts and showers. 

The commander of the 3rd Battalion, Lt. Col. Jason Lambert of Hermiston, said he understands how important logistics is to success.

“As a commander, you have to understand the amount of support required,” he said.

Lambert said the battalion support personnel — fuelers, cooks and ammo specialists — are the keys to success for any Guard unit.

“They do a lot of hard work without any of the glory. Their jobs are as important, if not more, than anyone else’s,” he said.

The equation is a simple one. Tanks need fuel and ammunition. If they do not get either, they are pricey metal slabs with a fancy computer and a big gun. That’s all. 

And, if the men who operate the tanks do not get food and water, they will eventually become useless as well.

That behind-the-scenes type of footprint was evident in July on a secluded section of desert under a series of large camouflage nets where the battalion’s cook section was busy preparing the evening meal for the battalion.

There, as heat waves shimmered off the high-desert terrain, Staff Sgt. Howard Coyle — a former Baker City resident who now lives in Northern Idaho — the mess sergeant for the 3rd Battalion, chatted with the cooks under his supervision, filled out paperwork and reflected on the huge challenge his team must tackle each day to feed a battalion. Coyle said he and his cooks understand that a good, hot meal once or twice a day makes a huge difference in terms of morale for the tankers and scouts out on the desert gunnery ranges.

“The way I look at it is we are the only thing, besides going home, those line units have to look forward to,” he said.

Early on in the annual training cycle, Lambert said, the battalion’s cooks delivered a pledge to provide two hot meals a day. That promise may seem insignificant, but when framed against the fact that the battalion was stretched out over the massive Orchard Combat Training Center, it appeared to be a gamble.

Lambert said, though, the meals were delivered — twice a day and on time.

“I couldn’t be more proud. Their level of motivation has been impressive,” he said.

Producing those meals isn’t easy. The days are divided up into long periods of work and little rest for the cooks.

“We try to get up at 2:30 in the morning. And we’ve been getting done around 8 and 9 p.m.,” said battalion cook Sgt. Justin Hoeft of Heppner.

Sgt. Joshua Tarvin of Wallowa, another 3rd Battalion cook, agreed the schedule can be grueling.

“It is very demanding. You worry about the battalion getting its chow all the time,” he said. “It can be, easily, a 20-hour day. People don’t realize that breakfast, for example, starts at 2 a.m. for us.”