4000 Troops to train in CO for ‘Raider Focus’

Nearly 650 vehicles will roll south from Colorado Springs next week in the biggest Army convoy seen in the Pikes Peak region in decades.

By some accounts, it’s the largest road convoy in Colorado since World War II. It will take more than 4,000 soldiers and more than 300 Stryker armored vehicles and other rigs from Fort Carson’s 1st Brigade Combat Team to its Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site east of Trinidad for combat training.

But the road trip, which runs May 26-30, has its own reward.

“The move to Piñon Canyon is itself a training event,” said Col. David Hodne, the brigade’s commander.

Hodne’s brigade has been training for more than a year with the Strykers, which replaced a contingent of vehicles including 72-ton M-1 tanks. A big part of the Stryker’s battlefield appeal is its ability to move quickly across vast distances, allowing commanders to reinforce a weakened line or exploit an enemy shortcoming in hours.

To do that, soldiers must learn the road.

Brigade planners have labored for eight months to draw up convoy plans and work with local authorities along the route to blunt the impact on commuters. Officials in the counties along the route have offered to ease the way for the Army rigs and usher them through areas that might become congested.

“It could pose some unique challenges,” said Maj. Curtis Yankie, a transportation officer with the post’s 4th Infantry Division.

Long road convoys are commonplace at some Army posts, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, where Stryker troops regularly hit the highway for a 150-mile drive to a training area near Yakima.

At Fort Carson, though, most Piñon Canyon training has involved tanks and M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles – tracked rigs that aren’t designed for freeway driving. Those heavier vehicles have been hauled to the training area by train.

Strykers, though, are built for pavement. The eight-wheeled rigs have four-wheel steering and behave like heavily armored motor homes on the open road. The Strykers weigh in at an interstate-friendly 18 tons, about half of a loaded 18-wheeler.

That’s why the Army bought its first Strykers in 1999 – the lighter rigs can be quickly flown or driven to war.

And while the brigade’s Strykers were built by General Dynamics, they behave more like General Motors-built Cadillacs on the highway, Maj. Kevin Boyd said.

“It drives very smooth,” he said.

Boyd said the Stryker drivers will have plenty of help keeping an eye on traffic, with lookouts on the vehicles as they rumble through the four-hour drive.

“They will have full visibility – 360 degrees,” he said.

But packing 300 Strykers along with hundreds of trucks and Humvees onto the highway isn’t a commute taken lightly.

Warrant Officer Georgia Rountree said the trek will consist of dozens of 15- to 30-vehicle convoys rather than a big Army parade.

Every half hour during the convoy days, vehicles from the brigade will begin the drive, sticking to a 40 mph speed limit.

The goal is to space out departures to avoid tangling traffic. The brigade plans to stay off roads at rush hour and at night, and use different routes to get to the Las Animas County training site.

While exact routes have not been released because of security concerns, convoys will roll on Interstate 25 or Colorado 115 for the trip south and have several options to reach the destination to the east, including Highway 50 and Highway 350.

The long drive is the start of a long couple of weeks for the troops, who will fight a simulated war called Raider Focus. It’s a graduation exercise of sorts for the unit, which has spent a year in intensive training at Fort Carson.

The goal is to get the brigade ready for quick deployment if war breaks out.