A shift in pre-deployment training

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Lahrman
  • 944th Fighter Wing
Five percent of vehicles sold in the United States are equipped with manual transmission, according to a 2016 report from U.S. News and World Report. So it should not be a surprise that the same report stated only 18 percent of American drivers are equipped with the know-how to drive a manual car. In the face of the stick-shift decline, the 944th Logistics Readiness Squadron is now the proud owner of a new five-speed, 1100cc all-terrain vehicle that is specifically outfitted to teach individuals to drive a manual car.

“We have a Force Support Squadron Airman deploying soon,” said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Brook, 944 LRS transportation manager. “A line remark on their orders requires them to be able to drive manual transmission vehicles.”

Such a requirement on deployment orders is not common, according to Brook. “This is the first I’ve seen it,” he continued. “I’m amazed that it’s even a line remark, but I can see the reason for it.”

“Having this new training tool really adds to our readiness,” said Maj. Melissa Greene, 944 FSS commander. “We strive hard to set our Airmen up for success when they deploy. Since we never know exactly what they will be doing when they get down range, having them ready for anything and everything helps alleviate a lot of stress. The LRS capability to train our folks over UTA weekends is amazing. Taking this class outside the gate can cost the member anywhere from 200-400 dollars. This saves our deploying Airmen time and money.”

While the skill of driving a manual transmission is not necessary in the U.S., Brook estimates well over 80 percent of the vehicles in Southwest Asia deployment locations are manual transmission. He also said the training needs to be done right, just as it would be for a forklift or other special vehicle driver.

“People normally getting deployed are taught on the fly by people already there,” said Brook. “It’s not the optimum but that’s how we’ve done it in the past. The fact that we actually have a line remark means that I can’t send them downrange without them knowing how to drive a stick because now we have a deficiency. So I have to meet – or attempt to meet – that training requirement before they deploy.”

Meeting the training requirement means using appropriate equipment. Prior to ordering the Renegade R-4 from the Phoenix-based company, Joyner, the only manual transmission vehicles in the 944th fleet were a ten-ton tractor and a rollback wrecker – both equipped with 18-speed transmissions, and neither suitable as training aids. “That would be like trying to train somebody, who has never driven before, on a Ferrari or a high-performance sports car,” said Brook.

By simply adding the utility vehicle to the inventory as an “Other Than Government Military Vehicle Conveyance” – a process that took just two months from research to delivery – the 944th Fighter Wing is capable of deploying all Airmen with the confidence and knowledge they need to succeed. That includes when they get behind the wheel and feel that almost-rare third pedal under their boots.