229th Chemical Company completes NTC rotation

The Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, conduct operational decontamination on vehicles assigned to the 734th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company at the National Training Center located at Fort Irwin, Calif. The 229th completed a training rotation at NTC in September where they worked and trained with active and reserve Soldiers from across the country. (Courtesy Photo)

The Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, conduct operational decontamination on vehicles assigned to the 734th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company at the National Training Center located at Fort Irwin, Calif. The 229th completed a training rotation at NTC in September where they worked and trained with active and reserve Soldiers from across the country. (Courtesy Photo)

SANDSTON, Va. – Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, traveled to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Sept. 9-29, 2014, for a Decisive Action training rotation that included 14 days of field training and sharpened the unit’s warfighting abilities.

The Decisive Action Training Environment, or DATE, is used at NTC to generate a training scenario that can be used throughout the Army and includes a hybrid threat that reflects the realities of today’s battlefields. Unit’s train in a joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environment that allows units to “fully exercise their Mission Essential Task List, or METL, that supports the Army’s core competencies.”

The 229th recently shifted from a heavy smoke company to a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, or CBRN, area support company that provides CBRN reconnaissance and decontamination. The unit also acts as the decontamination element of the Virginia National Guard’s CBRN Emergency Response Force Package, or CERFP. Since the transition, the unit has had little time to train for their wartime mission, but the training at the NTC offered the perfect opportunity for the unit to come tougher as a unit and build on the skills required in a deployed environment.

“The first goal was to build teams and platoons that could function as cohesive, independent sections,” explained Capt. Brian J. Webb, commander of the 229th Chemical Company. Webb said the first six days spent in the field focused on company-level situational training exercises, “which allowed the unit to build its teams and grow as an organization on a daily basis.” The remaining eight days of field training centered around “force-on-force” training, which required the 229th to support armor battalions in a fight against “ an equivalently equipped enemy with a chemical weapon capability.”

Because the 229th Chemical Company has never mobilized for an overseas deployment, the second goal of the training was “to give the Soldiers in the 229th the deployment experience, with the professional knowledge and confidence that comes with such a deployment,” Webb said. Training at the NTC mimics the fast pace of a deployment and helps Soldiers better understand how the Army operates.

The third and final goal of the training was to give the unit a unique annual training experience. The unit typically conducts their two-week annual training period at Fort A.P. Hill, and the opportunity to go to NTC offered the Soldiers of the 229th Chemical Company a vastly different experience.

“I wanted the 229th to shoot, to move, to communicate, and to be part of a combined-arms team. NTC gave us all of this,” Webb said.

Training up for the unit’s NTC rotation took approximately a year, after their request to attend the training was approved by the National Guard Bureau. From there, the unit began conducting field training exercises, building teams and working on Army Warrior Tasks, or AWTs.

“Among training opportunities for U.S. Army units, NTC is the ‘Super Bowl,’ so it took a lot of early mornings and late nights to get us to the point that we were prepared to ship our equipment out and get on a C-130 to go to Fort Irwin,” Webb said.

Once the Virginia Guard Soldiers arrived in California, they spent two days inprocessing at a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, that mimicked a base in Kuwait. From there, they drew additional vehicles and integrated into the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from Fort Bliss, Texas. The 229th had an active duty platoon attached to them at the start of training, and had additional opportunities to convoy and train with other active duty units.

For the first six days, the units conducted company and battalion-level situational training exercises, or STX, where the 229th would receive a mission to conduct either a CBRN reconnaissance or decontamination mission near the tactical assembly area.

“An entire battalion of [opposing forces] and civilian role players provided constant activity in ‘the Box,’” said Webb. “The Box,” is the name used for the training area at NTC. It’s approximately the size of Rhode Island and has terrain typical of the Mojave Desert, to include small trails, dry lake beds and large rock outcroppings.

The training forced Soldiers to react as if in a real-world combat situation, reacting to attacks, treating casualties and practicing their Army Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills on a daily basis.

The 229th Chemical Company also experienced chemical weapons attacks, simulated by CS grenades and yellow smoke.

“These attacks were especially useful in developing the 229th’s ability to exercise its wartime mission set,” explained Webb.

On the final day of STX lanes, the 229th, along with two additional companies, convoyed to consolidate with the rest of the brigade and prepare for the second phase of training – eight days of force-on-force training. The opposing force was equipped with Russian T-80 tanks, armored personnel carriers, unmanned aerial vehicles, artillery, fixed and rotary wing aircraft and chemical weapons. The 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team encountered three chemical attacks during the force-on-force phase of training that allowed them to practice their wartime mission skills.

During the unit’s 14 days in the field, they had no access to sleeping tents, showers, bathrooms, chow-halls or other comforts, “adding to the simulated combat stress,” Webb said.

Webb said he was able to watch the unit grow over the course of the training.

“I watched the 229th Chemical Company grow as an organization on a daily basis,” Webb said. “We went from being largely untrained in our wartime mission one year ago to being just as good as any active duty unit out there.”

Webb said the decontamination platoons, by the end of training, could be out of their cots and ready to roll out within 15 minutes of notification and could then have their decontamination lane set up within 20 minutes, far exceeding their 60-minute goal.

For the Soldiers of the 229th Chemical Company, the training proved invaluable. Without decontamination training sites in Virginia, the Soldiers are limited in what training they can complete. The facilities at NTC allowed the Soldiers to engage in a more realistic training environment.

“The opportunity to integrate with and train amongst active duty units was very useful in allowing us [Army National Guard] Soldiers the opportunity to see how our active counterparts work,” Webb said. “The active units also found value in seeing what ARNG units bring to a decisive action fight.”

The Soldiers returned to home station with zero vehicle accidents or lost equipment.

Photos: 229th Chemical Company completes training exercise at National Training Center

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