Virginia Soldiers sharpen their warrior skills during annual training

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team conduct live fire training with their M119A2 howitzers June 14 at Fort A. P. Hill during the unit's two-week annual training period. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — More than 1,800 Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group conducted annual training at Fort Pickett and Fort A. P. Hill from June 9-23 with a focus on individual Soldier skills as well as collective training to better prepare their units for both their state and federal missions. Each brigade has unique challenges because of their different mission sets, so leaders have to adapt their training plans in order to make sure units are prepared for their assigned missions.

The Army’s Force Generation model, or ARFORGEN, establishes how Guard units plan their training with the first year after a mobilization being known as the “reset” year. In following years, the training echelon advances to team, squad, platoon and higher in order to prepare the unit for its “ready” year when it can be mobilized for federal active duty.

Soldiers from the Manassas-based 266th Military Police Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group utilize the military operations in urban terrain site at Fort Pickett to hone their warrior skills June 18. The Soldiers are conducting their two-week annual training period at Fort Pickett. Along the course, they encountered a variety of obstacles, and were forced to jump over walls, run through tunnels, climb ropes and ladders and practice their room clearing skills, along with other warrior tasks and drills. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

For the 329th RSG, the challenge comes from the fact that individual companies within the group’s battalions are deployable on their own and therefore have their own ARFORGEN cycle. Because of that, getting an entire battalion on the same cycle is very difficult to accomplish, explained Col. Michelle Rose, commander of the 329th. While there are companies in the brigade that are focused on the individual skills in a reset year, there are also units that are preparing for possible federal mobilizations in the next year or two.

Creating challenging training for units in the 329th has been made easier by the quality of the training facilities at Fort Pickett, Rose said.

“We as an Army are going back to basics, but what I have seen during annual training is the basics bumped up a notch because of the quality of the facilities we have at Fort Pickett,” she said.

The real-world line missions performed by the 1030th Transportation Battalion units also help improve the quality of training, Rose said. “As long as you are getting truck drivers on the road, that makes for realistic and challenging training that Soldiers really want,” she said.

The challenge for the 116th IBCT going in to annual training was the reality that different units were in different places in their ARFORGEN cycle but the brigade was expected to be synchronized across all the battalions, explained Col. John M. Epperly, commander of the 116th IBCT.

The IBCT Headquarters just returned from a mobilization in Afghanistan, and the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment recently returned from mobilization in Iraq along with companies from other units in the brigade. With the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment focusing on the training requirements as the state’s incident response force, and the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry and Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery both having completed their reset training years and moving into collective training, the brigade found itself at multiple points in the ARFORGEN cycle when word came from Department of the Army that TY 12 was to be the reset year for the entire brigade.

Epperly said that the best course of action was put everyone in reset, but still maintain the opportunity for collective training as well. For example, the firing batteries in 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery have been conducting collective training in field conditions and live fire exercises every three to four months in order to maintain their perishable fire direction center and gun crew skills. Putting them back into full reset would risk hard-won skill proficiencies and compromise their current level of readiness, he said.

For 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, the Soldiers conducted team live fire training, but the evaluation was at the individual level, Epperly said. Operating within a team-level framework, Soldiers are evaluated on individual skills like marksmanship and individual movement techniques. Fire team leaders also had the opportunity to improve their ability to control and distribute direct fires which is essential to leader proficiency in TY 13.

The 429th Brigade Support Battalion demonstrated much improved proficiency with conducting high-endurance logistics packages or LOGPACs. They were able to execute several long distance convoys carrying food, water, fuel, ammunition and other hazardous materials without any safety mishaps and track them on their digital Mobile Tracking System or MTS. “We’ve really focused on driver’s training and convoy operations in both day and limited visibility conditions this past training year. The 429th’s disciplined execution of these complex missions demonstrates their proficiency at these tasks,” Epperly said.

The 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion was able to capture impressive training for both the signal and military intelligence companies. The military intelligence company participated in the Utah-based Panther Strike mission focusing on proper collection and exploitation of human intelligence while other Soldiers completed the rigorous Enhanced Analytical Skills Course at Fort Belvoir.

“Both of these training events allowed our intelligence analysts to receive some of the best training the Army has to offer on all source intelligence collection and exploitation,” Epperly said. “That makes the entire brigade combat team more effective.” The signal company was able to successfully operate all of its satellite based battle command systems. “The Guard has come so far in this area,” he said. “I was able to speak with and see my commanders each day even if we were not in the same place. We could track training, convoys and vehicle movements with high fidelity giving us a comprehensive common operating picture.”

The approach proved to be successful. “This has been an exceptional AT because we have done superb training across a myriad of MOS skill sets and Soldier skill levels, and we have done it safely,” Epperly said. “We are poised to move into the next training year and the next echelon of training with a solid foundation of individual skill training and certifications being completed.”

Read more about 329th RSG and 116th IBCT units at annual training:

Gate City-based transporters gain real-world experience during AT
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/27/1494/
Virginia MPs train at Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Training Center
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/24/1509/“Warrior Stakes” tests 116th BSTB Soldier skills
 http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/27/1489/

429th BSB runs supply convoys to feed, fuel, arm 116th IBCT
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/27/1482/

1-111th Soldiers conduct live fire during AT
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/26/1520/3-116th Soldiers get back to basics during annual training
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/26/1515/

116th Brigade Combat Team welcomes new commander
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2012/06/17/1422/

To view photos from the 116th IBCT and 329th RSG annual training period, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/collections/72157630340917506/