Story by Debralee Best on 04/16/2018FORT MCCOY, Wis. The U.S. Army Reserve is training approximately 250 Vehicle Crew Evaluators (VCE) through Cold Steel II at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
VCEs are an integral part of convoy protection platform training, grading crews on their proficiency in gunnery.
"Last year, we trained 93 VCEs. This year USARC gave us a goal of training 250. This gives units the ability to understand the requirements and how to get after conducting gunnery," said Capt. Rob Brem, assistant operations officer, Operation Cold Steel II. "Now units have a bench of VCEs to pull from to fulfill the requirement to conduct Gate IV."
A VCE team consists of five Soldiers, a master gunner, primary evaluator, timing controller, thermal optic/audio controller and a radio telephone operator. Every member of the team must have some experience with live-fire, the degree depending on their position.
The master gunner trains and certifies VCEs, provides quality control of scoring and is responsible for the efficiency and effectiveness of the scenario. The primary evaluator must be experienced with live-fire as a vehicle commander. This Soldier is required to enforce the training standard, conduct after action reviews with the crews and complete scoresheets. The timing controller must have some live-fire experience as a vehicle commander or gunner. Their duty is to time crew actions using a standard timing board, digital timer or stopwatches. Any live-fire experience is required for the thermal optics/audio controller. They are responsible for watching and listening to the crew to ensure proper times are annotated and crew commands are given. The radio telephone operator is required to have any live-fire experience and is responsible for radio contact with the crew.
Soldiers training as a VCE first come through as Troop List Soldiers and qualify on a convoy protection platform. Following qualification, they attend the Vehicle Crew Evaluator Exportable Package (VCEEP) training. This consists of 40 hours of classroom training with a certification exam. After completing the training, America's Army Reserve's newest VCEs are assigned to a location at Cold Steel to put their knowledge into practice.
"We went through each station, just like the Soldiers do when they come through so we can understand where they're coming from," said Sgt. Tony Ayers, vehicle crew evaluator. "We slept in the field at the ranges, just like they do. We went to the (Preliminary Marksmanship Instruction) classes, we went through all the different ranges from the blank range to the ground qualification range all the way up to the regular qualifying range for gunnery. We went through as teams just like they do so we can understand their side, where they're coming from."
Experiencing what the teams go through is a learning experience for the evaluators, but it's not the only benefit of their training. Leaders say applying what they've learned immediately also helps in their gunnery evaluations.
"They're doing excellent. They're really grasping the concepts now that it's all broken down for them," said Sgt. 1st Class Larry McCracken, vehicle crew evaluator and fire commands master gunner, 3-340th Brigade Engineer Battalion. "The fact that they get to learn the VCE process then go straight out to reinforce those skills on the ranges really solidifies their knowledge base. They get to use what they just learned with practical applications."
VCEs not only evaluate the crews as they complete gunnery, but also try to coach them so they improve.
"I try to make sure they get it before I go on to the next one. We talk about it more specifically when I'm seeing the different things they called out," said Ayers. "Me personally, I give suggestions, You could do this to make it better, you can do this to cut down your time, do you understand that you did this or didn't say that. Just try to do battle drills, do PMI, try to do the things to make yourself better, to make yourself distinguished or to make yourself the top dog because it's all about being the top dog in gunnery.' I'm always trying to make it to where they can improve themselves."
Ayers believes his background as an Observer Coach/Trainer (OC/T) has assisted in his transition to VCE.
"VCE comes easy because I have OC/T training and it's pretty much the same thing," he said. "I just switch it over to the VCE side, instead of dealing with a whole company, brigade, platoon, I'm just dealing with a squad, two to three people, all depending on what type of vehicle we're dealing with. It's fun. You get to work one-on-one with different people, different ways of life, different companies and different (military occupational specialties)."
Ayers plans to take this training back to his unit and expand the knowledge base.
"I have another (noncommissioned officer) up here doing the same thing. We were talking about how we can implement this, take it back to the other Soldiers of how we deal with gunnery," he said. "Pretty much the same thing we do with being OC/T trained. Just trying to implement the different ways we do things across the board."
McCracken said he has seen a vast improvement in gunnery from last year to this year and believes the Army Reserve is on the right track to become self-sufficient in training convoy protection platforms, which is the purpose of Operation Cold Steel.
"Things get better with time," said McCracken. "It's been a culture shock for the Army Reserve to start shooting gunnery, it truly has."