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News | May 30, 2024

Fort McCoy’s rail operations support team key ‘driver’ for successful rail movements at installation

By Scott Sturkol FORT MCCOY PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE

As one of the few installations to have Army locomotives a part of regular transportation operations, that also means Fort McCoy has to have the right people in place oversee the rail operations when those locomotives are in use.

Those people are the Fort McCoy rail operations support team. That team is staffed by people working with the Fort McCoy Logistics Readiness Center (LRC) Transportation Division and contractors partnering with LRC. This includes people operating locomotives to move railcars in place for loading, people working with units and unit service members to get training on how to load railcars, people to assist with moving cargo, and more.

With LRC, personnel supporting the team include Installation Transportation Officer Douglas “Terry” Altman, Matthew Fenik, unit movement coordinator; Clint Kurth, transportation assistant; and Dennis Diercks, transportation assistant. With the EAGLE contractor supporting the rail team is John Cobb, supervisor; William Peters, locomotive engineer/conductor; Douglas White, locomotive engineer; Daniel Schiffer, rail brakeman/switchman.

During an interview earlier in 2024 with Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Messenger, Altman described the rail mission at Fort McCoy.

“These (locomotives) support our MFGI (Mobilization Force Generation Installation) mission,” Altman said. “(For example), anytime the Army has to deploy engineers, transportation companies, and large equipment, we’re here to support that mission with rail.”

Most recently, during May 2024, the team supported a large rail movement by the Wisconsin National Guard that included approximately 800 pieces of equipment on nearly 200 railcars. That meant taking out a locomotive and putting those railcars in place to get the equipment loaded.

The red Army locomotives in use at Fort McCoy are General Motors EMD GP-9 locomotives that weigh 120 tons; stand 15 feet, 4 inches tall; and have 1,750 horsepower.

Peters enjoys doing his job as he’s work in the rail industry for more than half a century — 41 years with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway and 10 at Fort McCoy as a contractor working in partnership with Fort McCoy LRC.

Peters was asked by Messenger, also earlier in 2024, how he got started driving trains, to which he replied, “It all started in Southern Iowa on Burlington Northern.” And later in his career he was driving long trains from La Crosse, Wis., to Chicago on a regular basis. Peters now only drives the locomotive on Fort McCoy, but when the rail movements happen it’s a busy time, he said.

Warrant Officer 1 Eric Frank with the Wisconsin National Guard who coordinated the May rail movement at Fort McCoy said the post is an ideal location for doing rail movements, including historical ones like the one they’re did for JRTC.

“I feel like it’s one of the best places you can do it,” Frank said. “It’s the only site for rail for military in the state of Wisconsin.”

And rail at Fort McCoy has been a steady part of operations for the last century. Early photos show rail bringing supplies to the original Camp Emory Upton and Camp Robinson on what is today’s South Post at Fort McCoy.

During World War II in the 1940s, and during the Korean War in the 1950s, tens of thousands of troops and tons of supplies and more flowed through McCoy via trains on rail.

On July 16, 2020, former Technician Fifth Grade Donald Whitaker visited Fort McCoy and recalled when he boarded a train and left Camp McCoy after serving two years, six months, and seven days in the Army during World War II. Whitaker also recalled what it felt like arriving by train to get ready to leave the Army.

“I just remember coming in by train (to McCoy) knowing you were getting out, and we were all saying the sooner the better,” Whitaker said.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Harry Baker — a World War II veteran who served with C Battery, 302nd Field Artillery Battalion, 76th Infantry Division at then-Camp McCoy in 1943-44, recalled how he would see people “riding the train all the time” during a 2022 interview.

Baker even recalled boarding a train at Fort McCoy to start his journey overseas that would eventually see him fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.

“We got on a train and went through Milwaukee all the way to Miles Standish,” Baker said. “When we went to sea we went on a Liberty ship. I was disappointed though. I had fallen asleep when the ship left, and I didn’t get to see my country as we went to leave. We were already at sea.”

No matter the era, Fort McCoy leaders say rail will continue to make a difference as a driving force for transportation needs of the installation’s future.

Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.” Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.

The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services nearly every year since 1984.

Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at https://www.dvidshub.net/fmpao, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”

Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set “Fort McCoy” or another installation as your preferred base. Fort McCoy is also part of Army’s Installation Management Command where “We Are The Army’s Home.”